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The Washington Report – November 21, 2014
21 Nov 2014

The Washington Report – November 21, 2014

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



Congress has left town for the long Thanksgiving recess. The Lame Duckers are set to return for only two weeks in December before adjourning for the year.

Wishing you all a Happy Thanksgiving!

“What we are really talking about is a wonderful day set aside on the 4th Thursday of November when no one diets. I mean, why else would they call it Thanksgiving.” (H/T Erma Bombeck}


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


TWEET OF THE WEEK (couldn’t decide)

@IsaacDovere: “Going to miss the era of DC good feelings, bipartisanship & cooperation between the WH & Congress that apparently ended tonight”

@daveweigel: “And so begins the YOLObama [you only live once] phase of this presidency.”


GET BACK TO WORK Bloomberg: “Mitch McConnell is promising Friday workdays for senators once he is sworn in as majority leader … a work schedule that is a bit more robust than ones adhered to by the Senate in recent years.”


OBAMA GOES IT ALONE [500 days since the Senate passed a bi-partisan immigration bill], “President Obama chose confrontation over conciliation on Thursday as he asserted the powers of the Oval Office to reshape the nation’s immigration system and all but dared members of next year’s Republican-controlled Congress to reverse his actions on behalf of millions of immigrants. In a 15-minute address from the East Room of the White House Mr. Obama told Americans that deporting millions is “not who we are” and cited Scripture, saying, “We shall not oppress a stranger for we know the heart of a stranger — we were strangers once, too.” …His directive will shield up to five million people from deportation and allow many to work legally, although it offers no path to citizenship.” (NYT)

LET THE FIREWORKS BEGIN CNN Politics: “Opponents of President Barack Obama’s plan, which makes sweeping changes to the nation’s immigration system by use of executive order, focused their criticism on the legal case, saying Obama has overstepped the boundaries of his authority and is ignoring the will of the people.  … Across the [spectrum], high profile Republicans — including potential 2016 White House hopefuls — vented their rage at an executive branch they see as out of control and out of touch.” RETRIBUTION Republican House Speaker John Boehner warn[ed], “President Obama has cemented his legacy of lawlessness and squandered what little credibility he had left,” Boehner said.



“To those members of Congress who question my authority to make our immigration system work better, or question the wisdom of me acting where Congress has failed, I have one answer: Pass a bill.”

– President Obama, announcing an executive action that will shield up to five million people from deportation


HOW OBAMA GOT HERE Politico: “Nine months ago, the new Homeland Security secretary, Jeh Johnson, received a request from the White House. President Obama wanted him to personally take on perhaps the administration’s toughest political assignment: looking for creative ways to fix America’s immigration system without congressional action-or executive overreach…. That request to Johnson would prove critical: a moment when the president set on the path of a much more ambitious change than the narrow changes in civil enforcement policy he and his aides had initially explored. In the remaining months of 2014, Obama would come to support a sweeping executive action to allow millions of undocumented immigrants to stay in the country, as Congress lurched from willingness to consider changes to strained immigration laws to refusing to tackle the issue at all. Meanwhile, interest groups from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to the Business Roundtable, from K Street’s shrewdest lobbyists to the most hard-nosed union bosses, intervened to try to shape the direction of the order.”


ONE VIEW: WSJ editorial board: “Obama’s policy by executive order is tearing at the fabric of national consent.” ANOTHER VIEW Peter Beinart, The Atlantic: “The president has long been tugged between his bipartisan urges and his activist roots. With his executive order and speech Thursday, he chose activism.”


DEFUND? NOT. “House Appropriations Committee Confirms Congress Can’t Defund Obama’s Immigration Action” HuffPost: “[T]he agency responsible for carrying out the changes is completely self-funded.”


THE ‘A-WORD’ (DEEP DIVE INTO THE HISTORY OF ‘AMNESTY’)The Fix: “When politicians discuss controversial policies, they rarely ever use the same words. Supporters will frame the issue in sunshine, where opponents will try to make it sound as terrifying as possible. When changing how the federal government deals with undocumented immigrants comes up, supporters tend to call the issue “immigration reform,” while opponents call it “amnesty.” When Republicans use that term—and, for the most part, only Republicans use it—the word is typically shorthand for “bad immigration policy.” Asking if a Republican supports amnesty is akin to asking if someone is beating his or her spouse; it’s a loaded term, and the correct answer is always no. For conservatives, amnesty is bad. Nobody likes amnesty. The use of amnesty has increased markedly over the past decade, according to the Sunlight Foundation, reaching peaks during failed attempts at immigration reform in Congress and in the past few months, as the White House has considered executive actions. SO WHEN DID AMNESTY BECOME SUCH A LOADED TERM? Well, it hasn’t always had such negative connotations. When Ronald Reagan signed immigration legislation in 1986, he discussed the importance of offering amnesty to immigrants who had lived in the United States for a long time. However, by the time the next big immigration battle came along during George W. Bush’s presidency, amnesty was beginning to be seen not only as a questionable policy, but also a word better left un-uttered. It was also a time when conservative primary challenges were beginning their long reign of driving Republican policy platforms. In 2005, a director at the Center for Immigration Studies told the Washington Post, “If the White House and the Republican establishment think promoting amnesty is good politics, they are crazy. It has the real potential of turning off their base.” A year later, [Sen] Grassley(R-Iowa) said of one proposed immigration reform bill, “If it looks, acts and smells like amnesty, then it is amnesty.” Yet there were still those in the Republican Party who pushed against this reading, like Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC). “The idea of dealing with 11 million people as if they don’t exist is unrealistic. America needs to mature on this issue. … Demagoguing it is no longer an option for me.” Graham still supports immigration reform today, and still faces amnesty attacks. In 2006, the word had finally engulfed the immigration debate. Dana Milbank wrote: “The world’s greatest deliberative body is at it again. The Senate has begun a momentous debate about securing the nation’s borders, and what to do about the millions of illegal immigrants already here. So far, however, the lawmakers have not advanced much beyond a linguistic debate about the meaning of the A-word. … The bill never made it through Congress, and the linguistic debate still hasn’t ended. The words “executive amnesty” have become the standard GOP description of what Obama did Thursday, and they will be uttered plenty in the days ahead.”


THE KEYSTONE XL VOTE NYTs: “Senate Democrats, by a single vote, stopped legislation that would have approved construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, one of the most fractious and expensive battles of the Obama presidency. The vote represented a victory for the environmental movement, but the fight had taken on larger dimensions as a proxy war between Republicans, who argued that the project was vital for job creation, and President Obama, who had delayed a decision on building it. Senator Mary L. Landrieu, Democrat of Louisiana, who is facing a runoff election Dec. 6, had pleaded with her colleagues throughout the day to support the pipeline, leading to a rare suspense-filled roll call in the Senate. But she was ultimately rebuffed and fell short by one. The bill was defeated 59 – 41;  it needed 60 votes to proceed.” THE ‘HELL NO’ CAUCUS Politico: “The defeat of the Keystone XL pipeline in the Senate marked a major show of muscle for next year’s new hell-no caucus: liberals. Liberal Senate Democrats united to block the controversial project, even though their imperiled Democratic colleague Mary Landrieu of Louisiana begged them not to … liberals like Jeff Merkley, Bernie Sanders and Sheldon Whitehouse – with Elizabeth Warren leading the way on messaging – may cause as many headaches for Senate Republicans as tea partyers caused Democrats in the past four years.”

“Senate Rejects Pipeline Plan That Would Have Created Thousands Of Climate Activist Jobs”.

The Onion’s read on the Keystone XL vote


NSA REFORM BILL CRUSHED Politico: “A wall of Republican opposition brought down a controversial National Security Agency reform bill Tuesday night, leaving the future of the package in doubt ahead of a Republican takeover next year. Sen. Patrick Leahy’s legislation that would end the NSA’s bulk data collection narrowly fell short of the Senate’s 60-vote threshold, 58-42, a major defeat for privacy advocates, civil libertarians and a White House that supports the bill. “Opposition was led by Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell and colleague Sen. Rand Paul, who both voted down the legislation, though for different reasons. McConnell, like many Republicans, voted it down because he believed the reforms went too far, while Paul voted against the bill because it did not go far enough.”


WHAT TO DO WITH THAT OH-SO-HATED RULE CHANGE? WashPo: “The incoming Senate Republican majority is already showing some division in its ranks over how to deal with the Democrats’ filibuster rules change. The word from the office of soon-to-be Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) is that ‘his members are discussing’ whether to reverse the nuclear option they spent the better part of a year denouncing or leave it in place to stick it to the Democrats. Sen. Lindsey Graham (SC) argued for the former on a radio show Monday night. Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah), in a cantankerous speech, said Republicans should give the new minority ‘a taste of their own medicine.'”


IN THE 114TH CONGRESS, MEN WILL CHAIR 20 HOUSE COMMITTEES.  A WOMAN WILL CHAIR 1. Welcome House Administration Chair Candice Miller (MI).  Really?  House Administration! I digress.


FACTOID “Democrat Debbie Dingell’s win in Michigan’s 12th Congressional District marks the first time in electoral history that a non-widowed female candidate will directly succeed her husband in the House or Senate.” (Bloomberg Politics)


HOUSE OVERSIGHT Politico Huddle: “ Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) is now the House GOP’s chief inquisitor. And compared with his predecessor – the colorful and controversial Darrell Issa – he is promising not to let things get too personal as the new chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. POT SMOKERS REJOICE Chaffetz said the recently passed bill legalizing some marijuana will not be taken up by his committee because the time limit on Congress to act against D.C. laws will pass before he has the gavel.”


NEW ‘INNOVATION STRATEGYPolitico: “Secretary Hagel offered new details on the Pentagon’s offset strategy to develop game-changing technologies to ensure continued U.S. technological superiority. He said the Defense Innovation Initiative is beginning with a panel led by Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work to identify technologies the Pentagon could develop to maintain its edge. The effort will involve technologies in a number of fields, including robotics, autonomous systems, miniaturization, big data and 3-D printing.”


LATEST ON THE NDAA Politico: “… the bill [is] still deadlocked because of a dispute over SASC Chairman Carl Levin’s insistence on including provisions to increase Tricare pharmacy co-pays and reduce troop housing benefits – and HASC Chairman Buck McKeon’s refusal to go along. Aides say discussions are continuing, but time is running short. Yesterday, Levin said “it’d be unthinkable to me that we not pass a bill,” according to The Hill. Top SASC Republicans are backing Levin, including Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John McCain of Arizona – two of the most vocal critics of a cut to military pensions that was signed into law late last year and then rolled back earlier this year. SASC top Republican Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma is also siding with Levin.” LONG RUNNING SAGA OVER TROOP BENEFITS which the Defense Department has been pushing to scale back because, military leaders say, the department’s personnel costs are growing at an unsustainable pace – and the Pentagon is desperate for savings as it grapples with the current federal budget caps. … The fiscal 2013 NDAA established a military compensation commission that’s expected to put forward recommendations in February for reining in military personnel and retirement costs – recommendations that could provide lawmakers some cover to tackle the issue in the upcoming fiscal 2016 NDAA.”


CIA CONSIDERS ORGANIZATIONAL CHANGES WashPo: “CIA Director John Brennan is considering  a … proposal [that] would essentially replicate the structure of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center and other similar entities in the agency – an idea that reflects the CTC’s expanded role and influence since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. … If Brennan moves forward, officials said, the changes would be among the most ambitious in CIA history.


PEOPLE VOTE REPUBLICAN BUT SUPPORT LIBERAL POLICIES. Huh? MonkeyCage: “A funny thing happened in five states on election night. In Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota, a majority of voters … chose a Republican candidate along with a liberal position on a ballot initiative. Alaska elected a Republican senator and passed a recreational marijuana initiative, along with an increase in the minimum wage. North Dakota elected a Republican congressman and rejected a Personhood amendment. Arkansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota elected a Republican senator and governor, and passed a minimum wage increase.”


NUMBER NERDS UNITE! The Fix: “The best thing about elections — if you are a numbers nerd like us — is the massive amount of raw data about the American public and what/how/why they think what they do. Yes, only 36%-ish of eligible voters cast ballots 17 days ago, but that still amounts to almost 77 million people voting — a pretty great sample to sort through.

4. That’s the margin that Democrats beat Republicans by among women in the national House vote. That’s a significant decline from President Obama’s winning margins among females (+11 in 2012, +13 in 2008) although it’s an improvement from the 2010 midterms when Democrats actually lost the women’s vote by a point.

62%. That’s the percentage of the vote for Democrats among those who said they “never” attend any sort of religious services; Republicans won just 36% among that same group. Compare that to the 18-point edge Republicans enjoyed over Democrats among those who go to some sort of religious service weekly and you see that one’s religiosity continues to be one of the most reliable predictors of how you’ll vote.

* 54. A majority of Americans who went to the polls on Nov. 4 believe that the “government is doing too many things better left to businesses and individuals” while just 41% think “the government should do more to solve problems.” Those numbers suggest that the long-running battle over what government can and should do (and how much it should do) is tilting back toward the smaller-is-better crowd that dominated in the mid and late 1990s.

* 79.  Along the lines of how people feel about their government is this number, which represents the percentage of people who say you can only “sometimes” (60%) or “never” (18%) trust the government in Washington “to do what is right.”  That’s absolutely stunning.

* 75.  Three quarters of the 2014 electorate was white (and they voted for Republicans by 22 points) on Nov. 4.  That might seem like great news for Republicans. It’s not. Whites comprised 77% of the 2010 electorate — and the decline in whites as a percentage of the overall electorate is happening in presidential cycles too.

* 53.  A majority of voters who identified as “moderates” (four in every ten voters) voted for Democrats.  Republicans got 45% of the moderate vote.  That’s a good reminder that a) “moderate” does not equal “independent” (Republicans won “independents” by 12 points) and b) this election was not decided by “the middle”, it was decided by the Republican base or, put another way, the no-show of the Democratic base.


b5cd94b00f5b9193571003cb_230x280GOVERNOR CHRIS CHRISTIE is back from the brink – and ready to run harder than anyone,” by Mark Leibovich, NYTimes Sunday Magazine: “Obscured by the ambition, loose-cannon personality and, frankly, the girth, is the fact that he is an exceptionally gifted and nuanced politician. He has a preternatural talent for appearing blunt and insistent when he is being cute and obfuscating. He is also a savvy tactician. If Barack Obama were not a politician, you could imagine him being a law professor; Mitt Romney would be in business. If Christie were not a politician, he would be perfectly exhilarated to work as a political operative.”

SENATOR JIM WEBB (D-VA) “Jim Webb launches 2016 committee” Politico: “Former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb became the first well-known Democrat to launch an exploratory committee to run for president on Wednesday night, saying the nation is at a ‘serious crossroads.’



SENATOR ELIZABETH WARREN  (WOULD BE A VERY DANGEROUS CANDIDATE IN 2016) The Fix: “Let’s get this out of the way: I don’t think Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) is running for president in 2016 … because she’s said she’s not running for president in 2016 a whole lot of times. But let’s say, just for sake of argument that she reconsidered. Well then, a question buried in the new NBC-Wall Street Journal national poll suggests that the electorate is absolutely primed for the populist messaging that she has ridden to prominence. THE DECK IS STACKED AGAINST ME IDEA Asked whether they agreed that “the economic and political systems in the country are stacked against people like me,” 56% of respondents in the NBC-WSJ poll agreed. That’s a massive increase — when NBC-WSJ asked the question in July 2002, just 34% agree with the sentiment. In recent years, that number has moved steadily upward — 54% said the system was stacked against them in August 2012, and 55% said the same in April 2014 in NBC-WSJ polling. ENTER WARREN whose recent career — she helped form the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau before running for the Senate in 2012 — has been built on the idea that the average American isn’t getting a fair shake (or even the chance at a fair shake) in today’s America. Warren has described herself as growing up on the “ragged edge of the middle class” … and she draws on that background when she speaks, casting herself as a populist warrior for the middle class. She became a liberal phenomenon — and Republican scourge — back in fall 2011 when, at a house party in the lead-up to her eventual Senate campaign, she said that “there is nobody in this country who got rich on his own.” HILLARY’S BIGGEST NIGHTMARE Warren … is combative and unapologetic in her beliefs — particularly on inequality — in a way liberals believe Obama has never been. And, stylistically and policy-wise, Warren also represents a clear contrast with the more cautious, Wall Street-friendly campaign that most people expect Hillary Clinton to make in 2016. (Make sure you read Noam Scheiber’s wonderful piece from November 2013 explaining why Warren is Clinton’s biggest nightmare.)


FACEBOOK CLOSES POLITICAL PATHWAY DOOR Yahoo: “Barack Obama’s reelection campaign pioneered a pathway for political campaigns to reach voters through Facebook when it released an app that helped supporters target their friends with Obama-related material. But as the 2016 presidential campaign approaches, Facebook is rolling out a change that will prevent future campaigns from doing this, closing the door on one of the most sophisticated social targeting efforts ever undertaken. ‘It’s a fairly significant shift,’ said Teddy Goff, who was Obama’s digital director in 2012.”

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