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The Washington Report – November 14, 2014

14 Nov 2014

The Washington Report – November 14, 2014


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

 

Will Rogers on Lame Duck Sessions … Cue Massive Political Explosion … Capstone Team on the Hill … Dems Re-elect Everyone of their Top Party Leaders. Huh? … History of Conveniently Invented Leadership Titles … How Republcians Turned the Senate R.E.D.D. – Jack Bauer Rule … Keystone … NDAA … OCO … Calling Orwell – Planes May Be Spying on Your Phone … #Grubergate … Madras Fashionistas … and more news of the week.

Enjoy the weekend!

Best,

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

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BALLOT CHECK Politico, “As Congress got to work this week, the House’s balance of power next year sits at Republican controlled, 244-184. Several are undecided. The Senate is at 53-43, with Louisiana (runoff) and Alaska called for Dan Sullivan (R) (though Begich has yet to concede).

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d5a7794aeda30ecb6735fcf8_228x197HISTORY OF LAME DUCK SESSIONS.  AND COMPLAINING ABOUT LAME DUCK SESSIONS The Fix, “This week, the lame ducks are returning to Congress for their last bit of legislating. But no one seems too excited to see them. The Oxford English Dictionary defines a “lame duck” as “a defeated member in the short session of Congress after a November election,” reporters credited President Abraham Lincoln with coming up with the nickname. The OED traces the political meaning of the word back to an 1863 issue of the Congressional Globe, which sneered that “In no event .. could it [sc. the Court of Claims] be justly obnoxious to the charge of being a receptacle of ‘lame ducks’ or broken down politicians.” Will Rogers updated the definition in 1932 in a letter to the New York Times. (SEE ABOVE)  Regardless of when it began, everyone agreed it sounded like the worst thing that could befall someone in Washington. … Not only is contempt for lame ducks nearly as old as our government, the government has been trying to banish them for a long time too. In the early 20th century, Congress tried to think of ways to eliminate that last lame duck session in Congress. As Colby Itkowitz reminds us at ‘In the Loop,’ the efforts culminated in the 20th Amendment in 1933. The swearing-in of both presidents and new legislators was moved to January. … So we’re stuck with the lame ducks, although for a far shorter time than back in the old days.” LAME DUCKS HAVE FEELINGS TOO We might make fun of the lame ducks and complain about them, but remember that they probably feel like this on the inside too.

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“WE’D LIKE THE PRESIDENT TO RECOGNIZE THE REALITY THAT HE HAS THE GOVERNMENT HE HAS, NOT THE ONE HE WISHES HE HAD.”

– Incoming Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in response to President Obama’s recent exercise of his executive powers, including his recent “deal with China on climate change, his intentions to move forward on his own on immigration and his suggestion the “the Internet should be regulated like a utility under the “so-called net neutrality rules.”

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LUNCH LEAVES BAD TASTE It took about three days for those bipartisan bromides to run into the brick wall that is immigration politics. Republican leaders and President Barack Obama remain incredibly divided over any executive action by the president on immigration …”

CUE MASSIVE POLITICAL EXPLOSION The Fix, “Reports are rampant  … that President Obama will sign an executive order as soon as next week that will allow up to 5 million undocumented immigrants to avoid deportation. Signing such an order will have explosive political consequences, reshaping not only the near term fights in Congress but also having a potentially profound effect on the two parties’ national coalitions heading into the 2016 election and beyond. WAVING A RED FLAG AT A BULL Republicans have made very clear if Obama goes forward, it would be the equivalent of giving the middle finger to their incoming majority — and, by extension, the American public that helped the GOP gain seats in the House and Senate. REPUBLICANS NOT HAPPY The most obvious and predictable outcome of Obama’s move on immigration is that any hope of bipartisanship on much of anything in the 114th Congress is probably now out of the question. Obama knows that.  And it would seem he doesn’t care. Or rather, he has made the calculation that the chances of genuine bipartisanship on virtually anything was so low in the first place that it didn’t make sense to not do what he believes is the right thing. POLITICAL CALCULUS Obama’s decision to postpone the signing of the executive order until after the election was a clear bow to Democratic senators who were seeking reelection in Republican (or at least Republican-leaning) states who fretted that such a move would doom their chances. Turns out, they were doomed anyway. With Sens. Mark Pryor (AK), Mark Udall (CO) and Mark Begich (AK) now all having lost — and Sen. Mary Landrieu (LA) headed in that direction — Obama is done waiting around.  For someone who, rightly, sees the possibility of major legislative action on any of his priorities in the final two years of his presidency as a pipe dream, making a move like this one on immigration is his best/only way to build out the pillars of his second-term legacy. AND LONGER TERM The hope in Obama World is that an executive order further cements the Democratic Party as the exclusive (or close to it) home for Hispanic voters (OF NOTE: Democratic House candidates won the Hispanic vote 62% to 38% in 2014, according to national exit polls. That’s actually a considerable improvement from the 29% of the Latino vote Republican nominee Mitt Romney got in 2012.)”

GOP SPLIT RESPONSE There are two directions being mulled by different sets of Republicans, per The WashPo. The first, favored by the GOP leadership, would have Republicans denounce what House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-OH) has called ‘executive amnesty’ and use the party’s new grip on Congress to contest changes to the law incrementally in the months ahead. The second, which has become the rallying cry for conservatives, would seek to block the president’s decision by shutting down the government for an extended period until he relents.” HOUSE OPTIONS: Given that Senate Republicans don’t take over until January, the opening tip is going to go to Boehner … Several options are being considered, including a stand-alone bill to strip or restrict funding from agencies that deal with immigration.”

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CAPSTONE TEAM ON THE HILL Team members were up on the Hill this week on behalf of our clients and they picked up a few bits of information that you may find interesting.  Not confirmed, but rumour circulating that Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) is likely taking over as Ways and Means Chairman.  Big new for Wisconsin! Also, it looks like the House Ways and Means Committee is going to release a comprehensive health care reform package within the next few days, something that will likely pass the House in this lame duck session. Chances of passing in the Senate … unlikely to even be considered. Also, the happy talk about cooperation after the election was just that … talk. Immigration is firing up both parties for a fight. And Republicans will happily vote for the Keystone Pipeline in the Senate knowing this issue will not even come close to helping Senator Landrieu in the Louisiana run off (latest polls show her trailing by double digits). Talk of a Keystone XL Pipeline Presidential veto.  After being at work for a whole three days, Congress already is looking forward to taking time off for Thanksgiving.

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DEMS JUST LOST BIG. THEY RE-ELECTED EVERYONE OF THEIR TOP PARTY LEADERS. HUH? The Fix, Ten days ago, Democrats lost (at least) eight of their seats and their majority in the Senate.  On the House side, the party dipped to at their lowest level — in terms of raw number of seats held — since World War II. How did the party react to this rejection from the American public? By re-electing every single one of their top Congressional leaders, of course! If this makes no sense to you, it’s because you are a thinking human being.  The way life traditionally works is that if something goes really badly or even worse than expected, the top guy (or gal) takes the fall.  CEO of a company who pushes a new product that flops? Bye bye. Manager of a baseball team that has a load of talent but misses the playoffs? See ya! DECIDEDLY STRANGE  Democrats — from President Obama on down — seem entirely comfortable with essentially writing off the results of the last election and continuing on as though either a) nothing has happened or b) what happened was a total fluke that was out of anyone’s control. That’s a mistake. From Boston Globe columnist Scot Lehigh … STEP ASIDE “Both Reid and Pelosi need to face a harsh reality of politics in an era of syncopated partisanship and polarization: After a certain period, congressional leaders’ caricatured images get so ingrained that they become electoral liabilities for their parties … Some will no doubt protest that the midterm losses weren’t Pelosi’s or Reid’s fault, and that therefore they shouldn’t bear the consequences. But this isn’t about blame. Rather, it’s about giving the Democrats an opportunity to offer fresh faces, different voices, new approaches.”

Senate R$: Sen. Roger Wicker (MS) beat out Sen. Dean Heller (NV) for the job to run Senate Republican$’ campaign arm. Senate D$: Sen. Jon Tester of Montana was chosen to chair Senate Democrat$ campaign arm.

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THE LONG HISTORY OF CONVENIENTLY INVENTED LEADERSHIP TITLES The Fix, “Senate minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has appointed Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) to a new leadership position – a liaison with liberal groups. As Paul Kane notes, “Expanding the leadership table — Warren’s position was created specifically for her — is a way to answer the critics who think that Reid’s team became insulated in recent years. … Elizabeth Warren also happens to be exceptionally popular with the Democratic Party base, unlike many of her colleagues. Hmm, this is starting to make sense. It wouldn’t be the first time party leadership has seen the utility of conjuring a leadership position from thin air in order to serve as a bit of political WD-40. It has been a favorite tool in the House (both parties) in recent years. … As the two political parties change and expand to include more — or at least different — factions, new leadership positions have become a useful way to make as many people happy as possible, at least for awhile.”

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WOMEN TO WATCH IN THE NEW CONGRESS 1. Joni Ernst (R – Iowa) The senator-elect from Iowa is going to make ’em squeal! Ernst has a great biography: mother, soldier, and she adds to that the arc of going from working-class farm girl to senator-elect (and the first woman to be elected to statewide office in Iowa). 2. Mia Love (R- Utah) Love just made history as the first female African American Republican to be elected to Congress. She is also a Mormon. 3. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). Sure, [she] has said that she won’t run for president. But she will be part of the leadership team that runs the Senate. 4. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) The congresswoman-elect already has a better résumé than you, and she’s only 30. The upstate New Yorker is the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. She graduated from Harvard. She worked in George W. Bush’s White House. And she beat her wealthy Democratic opponent by more than 20 points, in a district Obama won. Oh, and she is being touted by New York Republicans as the future of party. 5. Lisa Murkowski The Senator from Alaska will grab the gavel at the energy committee in the new GOP-controlled Senate. She’ll likely be the only GOP woman to head one of the high-profile standing committees. Her role means big things for her state, but her elevation comes as the number of GOP women in the Senate hits five. While they will still be outnumbered by Democratic women in the new Senate (14), because they are in the majority, the gang of five has a chance to be a force. 6. Gwen Graham The Florida congresswoman-elect was the rare Democrat to actually win a GOP seat this year, joining a freshman class that will be full of Republicans. She’s from a political family (remember papa Bob?) and from a big state and, if what she said during the campaign holds, she’s not exactly a fan of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). 7. Amy Klobuchar On the Sunday before Election Day, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) made the closing argument for Democrats on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” And who was she up against? Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who will almost certainly run for president in 2016. Klobuchar was just named to the head her party’s steering and outreach committee. Having been in the Senate for eight years now, Klobuchar is gradually easing into a national role.”

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THE MIDTERMS COULD HAVE BEEN WORSE FOR OBAMA. LIKE REAGAN The Fix, “New polling from Pew Research, released Thursday, indicates that the effect of the midterm stomping on Obama was zero.  “Zero” in the sense that Obama’s approval rating didn’t dip any further afterward. SEE REAGAN The thing that’s mostly interesting is Reagan. For the cult-like status that the former president has achieved, the guy had a pretty brutal late-1986. It’s not because the Republicans dropped seats in the House (which they did, but only five). It’s because of a thing called “Iran-Contra.” (Millennials, this is why we invented Wikipedia for you.) The Reagan dip is pretty much an outlier. (CHECK OUT THE INTERACTIVE GRAPHIC FOR EACH PRESDIENT – Truman to Obama – SCROLL DOWN) To summarize … George Bush’s unpopularity has tracked roughly with Obama’s, though a bit lower. Clinton’s stayed pretty flat, dipping slightly once Monica Lewinsky became a household name. Nixon didn’t quite make it to midterms. Reagan’s dropped pretty dramatically — almost down to where Obama is now.

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HOW REPUBICANS TURNED THE SENATE R.E.D.D. Yahoo, “Last “March, [NRSC deputy executive director Matt] Lira hired Mindy Finn, a well-respected digital strategist who had worked on multiple presidential campaigns and also as an executive at Twitter’s D.C. offices. Finn’s sole responsibility was to create what she named the R.E.D.D. program, short for Republicans Excelling at Digital and Data. … R.E.D.D. began with a 52-bullet checklist of actions that the NRSC expected campaigns to take, broken into seven categories: campaign structure, website, email, fundraising, social/video, advertising and data/analytics.” Finn then prepared report cards for the campaigns, tracking their performance in each of the seven categories.” … In 2012, the digital team at the NRSC had only included two people. In 2014, Finn and Jarrett were part of a roughly 20-person team based at NRSC headquarters. JACK BAUER RULE The R.E.D.D. program emphasized the need for campaigns to do a better job of recruiting and empowering volunteers [including responding to volunteers who contacted a campaign — through a website, an email, or phone —within ‘24’ hours. Lira also hired an analytics director, Luke Thompson, from Yale’s political science department, a hotbed of creative research into how campaigns can motivate behavior and use social pressure to prompt voters and volunteers into action. … It’s easy for the winning side to claim it’s full of geniuses and did everything right. But in the past two years, the NRSC focused on at least doing the little things right, and in the process, did a lot to start building the thing Republicans need most: a modern campaign culture.”

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U.S., CHINA INK EMISSIONS AGREEMENT Reuters, “U.S. officials said the commitments by the world’s two biggest carbon polluters came after months of backroom negotiations and would set the tone for a global climate control pact, but experts said the limits did not break significant new ground.”

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MARY LANDRIEU PRESERVATION ACT (n/t Dana Milbank) The Fix, “Perhaps we just need to have a Senate runoff election every month to bring things to a quick vote. Sen. Mary Landrieu’s Democratic leaders cleared the way for a [Keystone XL Pipeline] vote in the Senate next week. Republican leaders rushed a Keystone bill to the House floor, with an expected vote later today. NOTE: Landrieu said she does not have a commitment that she will get a presidential signature on Keystone approval, but sounded confident that she could get 60 votes.”

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KEYSTONE XL PIPELINE. YES. FRACKING. NO. The Fix, “Democrats are in a tough spot on Keystone XL. The for-now-Democratic-controlled Senate is preparing to vote on approving the project, even as the White House has hinted strongly that it would veto that bill. And … public sentiment is pretty strongly in favor of Keystone — so much so that even moderate Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents support it. Which puts the White House in a tough spot. But while Keystone is popular by about a two-to-one margin, environmentalists appear to be making progress on another key front: fracking — a.k.a. hydraulic fracturing, or the process of injecting liquid into the ground at high pressure in order to extract oil or natural gas. THE NUMBERS FLIP-FLOP As of March 2013, the Pew Research Center showed Americans approved of this technique by 10 points, 48-38. As of today, they oppose it, 47-41. Support for fracking has fallen most notably among younger Americans and among independents, who supported it 51-36 in early 2013 but oppose it 53-37 today. While it has generally been more of a localized issue — and sometimes a pretty intense one — opponents contend it risks contaminating the ground water, among other possible effects. A town in Texas last week became the first in the state to ban the practice. The Obama administration is reviewing potential new rules for fracking on federal land. While Obama hasn’t made a final decision on Keystone, he has said that the natural gas boom that’s resulted from increased fracking could provide a “bridge” between fossil fuels and clean energy.”

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CRUZ SAVES AMERICA Playbook, “In coloring book form: Shout-out to @timkmak for flagging this one down. There’s a new coloring book featuring Sen. Ted Cruz doing things like wrestling the snakes of Obamacare and riding a bald eagle that was pretty necessary viewing on a Wednesday morning.”

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BUSY WEEK FOR DEFENSE The House and Senate are back with hopes of getting things done now that the midterms are over – including a war authorization bill, a measure to fund the Pentagon and the rest of the government past Dec. 11 and an increase in the military’s supplemental war-spending account (OCO). (Meanwhile, President Barack Obama is on a weeklong Asia-Pacific trip that’ll include stops in China, Burma and Australia. And U.S. and Russian officials are once again exchanging hostile statements over the unraveling situation in Ukraine.)

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WHAT’S THE STATUS OF THE NDAA? Morning D, “The leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees are “making good progress” on ironing out differences between their two versions of this year’s National Defense Authorization Act according to HSAC Chair, McKeon. The leaders of the two committees are working to complete an informal conference report to be considered in both chambers without amendments – a process used to fast-track the measure ahead of an end-of-the-year deadline for getting the annual bill done.”

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THE OCO Congressional leaders appear receptive to the administration’s request for another $5.6 billion – added to the administration’s $65.8 billion request for Overseas Contingency Operations funding for the current fiscal year – to pay for the fight against the ISIL. The request comes as the administration begins sending another 1,500 U.S. troops to Iraq to help train and assist Iraqi fighters.

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McCAIN’S AGENDA Politico, in an interview with Sen. Jack Reed of RI, who’s now made it official he plans to become the top Democrat on the SASC in the new Congress, says he has many of the same goals as incoming SASC chairman John McCain of Arizona including:

– reversing sequestration as a top priority

– diving into the Pentagon’s overarching strategy that’s been restricted by sequestration and budget cuts

– looking at the administration’s war effort against the ISIL

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COCHRAN EYES SAC-D CHAIR Politico, “Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) says he’s likely to take the chairmanship of the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee in addition to chairing the full committee. Cochran is currently the ranking member on the Defense Subcommittee and is in line to chair the full Appropriations panel in the new Congress.”

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NEW BLOOD, WIDER BANDWIDTH, MORE INTELLECTUAL CAPITAL (WashPo) “Choose your metaphor for what Obama needs to revitalize his foreign policy team. Among the Cabinet, Secretary of State John Kerry seems to have reenlisted, with responsibility for the Iran nuclear talks and perhaps a new role as emissary to Putin in Moscow. Administration officials speculate that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel may leave well before the president’s term ends; a likely replacement would be former undersecretary Michele Flournoy, who was nearly picked for the job in 2013. Flournoy would also be a strong candidate for deputy national security adviser. The president has nominated Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken to become the next deputy secretary of state and nominated current deputy director Nicholas Rasmussen to be director of the National Counterterrorism Center.”

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CALLING ORWELL? PLANES MAY BE SPYING ON YOUR PHONE WSJ reports that “The Justice Department is scooping up data from thousands of mobile phones through devices deployed on airplanes that mimic cellphone towers, a high-tech hunt for criminal suspects that is snagging a large number of innocent Americans, according to people familiar with the operations. The U.S. Marshals Service program, which became fully functional around 2007, operates Cessna aircraft from at least five metropolitan-area airports. …Planes equipped with devices—some known as “dirtboxes” to law-enforcement officials because of the initials of the Boeing Co. unit that produces them—mimic cell towers of large telecommunications firms and trick cellphones into reporting their unique registration information. The technology … enables investigators to scoop data from tens of thousands of cellphones in a single flight, collecting their identifying information and general location.”

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LEAHY GETS HIS WISH The Hill, “Senate to Vote on NSA Reform, “the USA Freedom Act, which seeks to end the National Security Agency’s (NSA) bulk collection of Americans’ telephone records, the most controversial program revealed by Edward Snowden more than one year ago. The surprise move on Wednesday evening ends speculation about whether the bill would receive a vote this year … Votes to advance the measure aren’t expected until next week, and it could face an attempted filibuster from defense hawks who fear the bill would gut the country’s defenses against terrorism.”

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#GRUBERGATE LIKELY COMING TO CONGRESS WashPo reports the first rattlings of a big reaction to the Obamacare architect’s comments: “‘We may want to have hearings on this,’ said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), an influential voice among GOP hardliners and a member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, in an interview at the Capitol.” NO, NO, NO “The White House is publicly distancing itself from MIT professor Jonathan Gruber’s comments on the legislative process behind Obamacare and its ‘lack of transparency,’ which have been seized on by conservatives this week, saying that they are ‘simply not true.'” WHAT’S THIS ALL ABOUT? The firestorm began when a video emerged showing Jonathan Gruber, a high-profile architect of the Affordable Care Act and one of its fiercest advocates, suggesting that the health reform law passed through Congress because of the “stupidity of the American voter” and a “lack of transparency” over its funding mechanisms. The remarks were originally made in 2013 during a panel discussion at the University of Pennsylvania but began heavy circulation on social media Monday. “This bill was written in a tortured way to make sure CBO did not score the mandate as taxes,” Gruber said. “… SHOCKED, SHOCKED, TO FIND THAT GAMBLING IS GOING ON IN HERE” (H/TCasablanca) That’s right, over the Congressional “outrage” at discovering that, “Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage.”

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SELLING OF OBAMACARE 2.0 Politico, “The second year of Obamacare enrollment starts Saturday, and the administration is launching a much more precise strategy that uses targeted digital ads, aims at specific demographics and leverages social media … The hashtag #bornin88 did well the first year in getting 26-year-olds to sign up; expect a #bornin89 successor, aimed at people who turn 26 and can’t stay on their parents’ health insurance. Officials now know that radio spots are better for reaching Latino audiences in need of sign-up assistance.”

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MADRAS FASHIONISTA RETIRES Rep. Howard Coble (R-NC) in picture, is set to retire at the end of this year, after serving in Congress for nearly 30 years. The North Carolina delegation remembered his career on the House floor last night by making the worst fashion decisions of their lives – all wore madras.

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