GOOD JOB EVERYONE ON AVOIDING SHUTDOWN … WHAT ABOUT THAT DEBT CEILING … OPEN MOUTH AND THEN … BENGHAZI, REALLY? … NDAA AND THE THREATENED VETO … LIFE LINE FOR EX-IM BANK … THE OBAMA DOCTRINE … U.S. IS DIVERSIFYING, TRENDS BY PARTY I.D. … and other news of the week.
We are heartsick and shocked at the shooting that took place at Umpqua Community College in Oregon on Thursday. (I clearly write a variation of that line way too often.) To those is Roseburg, we agree with Ellen DeGeneres who said, “I hope you can feel our love.”
Joyce Rubenstein and the Capstone Team (John Rogers, Steve Moffitt, Alan MacLeod, Diane Rogers, Erik Oksala and Ross Willkom)
JUST BREAKING: WSJ: “Education Secretary Arne Duncan, one of the longest-serving members of President Obama’s cabinet, will step down in December.”
GOOD JOB EVERYONE. CONGRESS AVOIDS SHUTDOWN FOR 10 WEEKS WSJ: “Congress on Wednesday avoided a government shutdown by passing a bill that keeps the government running through mid-December, but leaves unresolved a divide over federal spending that threatens to resurface this winter with more perilous economic consequences …Congress now confronts a new Dec. 11 deadline to try to strike a long-term budget deal at a time when House Republicans are losing their most experienced leader and remain split about how to negotiate with [President Barack] Obama and Democrats. FOR THE RECORD: The president signed the continuing spending resolution Wednesday evening, along with a half-dozen other bills.”
MCCARTHY’S DEBT-LIMIT CAULDRON Politico: “It’s not like we didn’t know it was coming, but we now have a date by which Congress has to lift the debt ceiling or else risk a default: Nov. 5. And that has major implications for House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, likely the next speaker of the House. Congress will need to figure out how to increase the nation’s borrowing limit, prevent a government shutdown, and keep money flowing to highway projects. Any one of those issues would be an enormous lift; now all three will fall on a House Republican Conference in flux, with a new speaker, majority leader and majority whip expected to be elected next week but not take over until November.” –“Should Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) ascend to the speakership, which looks more likely by the day, he’ll have to decide whether to spend valuable – and limited – political capital in the first few days of his speakership on a treacherous debt limit vote, or to leave it to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to jam it through in the waning days of his reign … Some aides wonder if Boehner will push a debt ceiling increase across the floor and then immediately resign, handing McCarthy the speakership before Nov. 1.”
OPEN MOUTH … Kevin McCarthy tried to clean up his Benghazi gaffe on Fox News, saying he “did not intend to imply in any way” that the committee’s work was political. IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: “McCarthy boasted in two television interviews on Tuesday that the committee’s work already had achieved a desired result: Clinton’s decline in the polls.” He bragged on the cable channel that the House GOP deserves credit for bringing down Clinton’s numbers. AP: “Though House Republicans have said for months that the Benghazi investigation wasn’t about damaging Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid, Kevin McCarthy stepped in it by tying the two together – allowing Dems to have a field day. SORRY! Asked if he has apologized to the committee chairman, Trey Gowdy, McCarthy said: “I talked to Trey and I told him I regret that this has ever taken place. … Asked about whether the comment affects his prospects for becoming Speaker, McCarthy said: “This is not what you’re going to see as speaker of the House.” Clinton called the comments ‘deeply distressing,’ saying they show ‘unequivocally that this was always meant to be a partisan political exercise.” HANDS HILLARY A GIFT Political Wire: Hillary Clinton’s “upcoming appearance before the U.S. House Select Committee on Benghazi was supposed to be a crucible: a chance for Republicans to prosecute the former secretary of state for her handling of the 2012 terrorist attacks that killed four Americans as well as for her use of a private e-mail server,” the Washington Post reports. “Instead, it may have turned into a political gift for Clinton following this week’s suggestion by the likely next House speaker, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), that the taxpayer-funded Benghazi investigation was politically motivated. Clinton’s allies say his comments will help recast Clinton’s scheduled Oct. 22 hearing as a partisan inquisition rather than a fact-finding mission about the attacks in Libya.”
LONG SHOT BID Politico is reporting that “Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, is preparing to launch a campaign for House speaker, multiple sources. The expected bid by the four-term lawmaker comes after Chaffetz called on House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) to apologize for his remarks this week that the Benghazi Committee investigation has damaged Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers. Though Chaffetz is a respected member of the Republican Conference, McCarthy remains the overwhelming favorite to replace outgoing Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).”
JUST FOR THE RECORD WashPost: “In July 2014, the Republican-led House Intelligence Committee did something rather remarkable. It voted to declassify its Benghazi report. After two years of investigation, it found no evidence to buttress any of the conspiracy theories surrounding the Sept. 11, 2012, attack that killed Chris Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, and three other Americans. LET ME REPEAT THAT … it found no evidence to buttress any of the conspiracy theories surrounding the Sept. 11, 2012, attack that killed Chris Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, and three other Americans. THE REPORT STATED In short, all of the things that were alleged to have happened didn’t happen. Ruppersberger (the ranking Dem on the Committee) called the report “a bipartisan, factual, definitive report on what the Intelligence Community did and did not do.” And here’s the kicker: It was “adopted unanimously and sent to the Intelligence Community for a declassification review.” Unanimously, by a committee made up of 12 Republicans and nine Democrats.”
CAN MCCARTHY GO FROM BUDDY TO BOSS? NYTs: ” …for Mr. McCarthy – relatively inexperienced at governing and at times a political chameleon – the question now is whether he can transform himself from the House fun dad always ready for a trip to Disneyland into one who makes the children do their algebra homework and eat their kale. … Many of the qualities that have led to his meteoric rise during a mere eight years in Congress may be liabilities should he be chosen to wield the speaker’s gavel, as is widely expected to happen next Thursday.”
KEVIN AND MITCH — THE TIES THAT BIND Politico: “The 50-year-old from Bakersfield is a prolific Instagram user who invites both Democrats and Republicans for long bike rides and pals around with actor Kevin Spacey. The 73-year-old from Louisville is a voracious history bookworm who likes to tailgate with longtime friends at University of Louisville football games. The two men with diametrically different personalities and styles are about to begin one of the most important relationships in Washington, tasked with ensuring the GOP-led Capitol can present a unified front against President Barack Obama while trying to lead two chambers that inherently clash with one another. ‘Kevin is very, very outgoing, loves to meet people, loves to engage, loves to be able to talk to people,’ said Sen. James Lankford (R-OK), a former House member. ‘And McConnell’s very, very close to the vest. That’s no big secret there. He’s extremely careful but also doesn’t talk about a lot of direction or agenda.’ … McCarthy has made no secret that he would like to be more confrontational when it comes to the Senate. Months ago, McCarthy began advocating abolition of the Senate rule that requires 60 votes to advance most bills – a move McConnell, a consummate institutionalist, opposes.”
It’s a strange time in Congress, what else is new? Check out our own Ross Willkom’s Blog Post … “Resign to Compromise.”
NDAA COMPROMISE PASSES HOUSE – BUT DEMOCRATS HAVE VOTES TO SUSTAIN A THREATENED VETO: Politico: “The House easily gave its final approval to the National Defense Authorization Act on Thursday, moving it one step closer to President Barack Obama’s desk, but not with enough votes to override a threatened veto. THE VOTE BREAKDOWN: Thursday’s 270-156 vote on the final NDAA bill was nearly identical to the 269-151 vote on the initial House bill in May. Just 37 Democrats voted for the final bill, while 10 Republicans voted against it. The House would need a two-thirds majority – 290 yes votes – to override a presidential veto. SENATE TAKES UP THE FINAL NDAA NEXT WEEK: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) filed cloture on the NDAA compromise measure Thursday, setting up a vote in the Senate next week to send the bill to the president. The first procedural vote is expected in the Senate on Tuesday, which will require 60 votes to move forward. In June, the Senate voted 84-14 on the procedural motion and 75-21 on passage of the Senate NDAA bill. THREAT FOR REAL THIS TIME The White House has threatened to veto the NDAA year after year but has never done so. This time, sources say, he will sign it.
WHAT’S IN THE 1,915 PAGE FINAL BILL? Some highlights:
-The measure includes provisions championed by McCain to strip substantial authority for acquiring new weapons from Pentagon leaders and empower the military services to oversee their own programs. It would upend the oversight regime that’s been in place for nearly 30 years in which a central acquisition official – the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics – has been in charge of overseeing new weapons. The plan strips away much of that power and puts key decisions about acquisition in the hands of the Army, Navy and Air Force.
– The bill was held up in conference negotiations primarily over Tricare fee increases. Finally, McCain and Thornberry reached a compromise for a one-year increase in Tricare fees rather than the series of hikes over 10 years that the Obama administration requested. It’s similar to what was decided in last year’s bill, when negotiators approved a one-year hike and vowed to reconsider the 10-year plan in the future.
– A new 401(k)-style retirement benefit for service members is established, providing for the first time retirement benefits for those serving less than 20 years.
– Some lethal assistance to Ukraine is authorized. The administration has been providing assistance to Ukraine in its fight against Russian-backed rebels but has so far resisted calls to provide weapons.
– Several Pentagon cost-cutting provisions are blocked. The Pentagon sought to retire the A-10 Warthog and enact a new round of military base closings, but those were scuttled by lawmakers in both chambers.
– All federal agencies are required to follow the Army Field Manual when interrogating detainees, effectively banning the Bush-era enhanced interrogation techniques that critics say were torture.”
LIFELINE FOR EX-IM BANK? Politico: “Supporters of the Export-Import Bank have secured enough Republican support to bring an extension of the agency’s charter to the House floor later this month, according to sources involved in the whipping. More than 30 Republicans have signed on to a discharge petition, which would force a vote on reauthorizing the government-backed credit agency. Republicans expect upwards of a dozen more supporters. The vast majority of Democrats are expected to sign the petition. If the numbers hold, there is nothing the GOP leadership could do to stop a vote on an extension.”
SENATE COMPROMISE ON CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM Politico: “A bipartisan group of Senate leaders has reached a deal on criminal justice legislation that would allow well behaved prisoners to earn time off their sentences and effectively reduce long criticized mandatory minimums for non-violent drug offenders … [I]t doesn’t go as far as Democrats had … hoped.”
A BIT OF BIPARTISANSHIP … ON OBAMACARE! National Journal: “The Senate quietly passed a bill that would overturn the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of the small-group insurance market on Thursday—and it did so with surprisingly little fanfare. The legislation, passed by voice vote, gets rid of the ACA’s requirement that states increase the definition of their small-group market from employers with 50 or fewer employees to 100 or fewer by Jan. 1, 2016.” NYTs: “Obama reportedly doesn’t like it, but he’s going to sign it anyway.”
GET SMART FAST (WashPost)
— U.S. negotiators are closing in on a final agreement for an Asia-Pacific trade deal. The Obama administration hopes to announce today that they have reached consensus on the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
— The EPA tightened limits on a key air pollutant that causes urban smog. But the lowering of the ozone limit—from 75 to 70 parts per billion—angered environmentalists and public-health groups that had sought an even tougher standard.
THE SUPREMES “The Supreme Court agreed to hear another dozen cases for next term, including a challenge from Iran’s central bank over a law that makes it easier to distribute nearly $2 billion to terrorism victims, a Pennsylvania death row inmate’s complaint that a judge in his case was also his prosecutor; a European Union case against R.J. Reynolds for alleged money-laundering; and a determined hunter’s challenge that the federal government can’t keep him from boarding a hovercraft on an Alaskan river to hunt moose.”
PULLING BACK THE CAMERA ON THE OBAMA DOCTRINE Reuters’: “Less than a year and a half after … Obama used a West Point speech to lay out a strategy for relying on local partners instead of large-scale U.S. military deployments abroad, there is mounting evidence that the … ‘Obama Doctrine’ may be failing. … Russia’s sudden moves to seize the initiative in the Syria and Iraq crises … have stunned U.S. officials and laid bare the erosion of Washington’s influence in the region. … “Obama will probably only make modest changes in strategy, according to … U.S. officials. That strongly suggests that Obama will leave some of the world’s most intractable conflicts to his successor.” SYRIAN QUAGMIRE 2.0 Politico: “… And in the view of American officials, it is anything but an upgrade. Four years into Syria’s civil war and more than a year into a U.S.-led bombing campaign against the Islamic State terrorist group, the U.S. military now faces a new, potentially far more dangerous prospect: backing the opposite side of the Russian Air Force.” PUTIN BLINDSIDES OBAMA Politico: “On Monday afternoon, President Barack Obama grudgingly sat down with Vladimir Putin in part to gain a clearer understanding of the Russian leader’s opaque plans for Syria. Less than 48 hours later, Putin unpleasantly surprised Obama with new clarity: airstrikes that are scrambling the U.S. president’s plans for Syria and escalating the global rivalry between Washington and Moscow.”
After struggling to recruit new soldiers because of an improving economy and slashed budgets, the Army narrowly met its goal for the year ending Sept. 30. For fiscal year 2015, officials said they recruited 59,170 new soldiers, exceeding its goal of 59,000. (USA Today)
THE U.S. IS RAPIDLY DIVERSIFYING AND THE REPUBLICAN PARTY IS CLEARLY UNEASY ABOUT IT The Fix: “If you feel that you have read some variation on the headline above before, you are right. The numbers are striking. And now, a new Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll has once again highlighted something that really cannot be ignored. And that is this: A substantial share of the Republican Party is fundamentally uneasy about the ways in which the American population is changing. To be specific, GOP voters are split when it comes to whether the growing share of racial and ethnic minorities in the United States is a good thing. Look closely at the chart. On the long list of issues around which it seems that Republicans and Democrats seem to disagree is this issue. Three percent more Republicans said that this phenomenon — a reality that is inevitable given current population trends and immigration law — is moving the country in the wrong direction than said it was a good thing. Meanwhile, Democrats leaned clearly toward embracing this increasing diversity. HERE’S WHAT IT MEANS The NBC/WSJ poll provides is yet another bit of irrefutable evidence of real trouble and discord. And it’s a particular kind of trouble and discord that shows up again and again along partisan lines when the pollsters behind the survey ask about immigration, police brutality and misconduct, gay rights and, oddly, even the use of technology like smartphones. That so many more Republicans express discomfort and anxiety about the changing face of America and expanding certain rights just is not a good sign for a Republican Party trying in vain to adjust to that very same changing face. Given the data in this poll and so many others, the reluctance of most non-white voters to embrace the GOP becomes utterly logical. … I wrote this yesterday, but it bears repeating here: Anxiety about the changing face of America ranks among the most futile political causes of all time. It is a naked manifestation of the biases that have always been part of this country’s politics and its policies. But precisely because the American population and electorate are changing, it is a political organizing tool with a very short lifespan.”
MEET TRUMP’S SOCIAL MEDIA GUY: Justin McConney spearheaded this cycle’s biggest innovation: the 15-second Instagram attack ad. He convinced … Trump to complete the ice bucket challenge. He cut the Jeb Bush-bashing Instagram ads that have been called ‘The future of American politics.’ And he is seemingly the only person at Trump Tower other than the boss with an Apple computer at his desk. … [When] Justin McConney, Trump’s 29-year-old social media whiz … took on the role in February 2011, Trump had 300,000 followers on Twitter. Today, he has more than 4.3 million.” (Politico)
BIG DOG Bill Clinton’s mission creep: The ex-president is stepping up his campaign work for Hillary: “Bill (a.k.a. ‘The Big Dog’ in Clintonland) gradually is expanding his influence, … using media interviews about his charity work to make the case for his wife’s candidacy and … participating in high-level discussions about 2016.”IN CASE YOU WONDERED A new USA Today/Suffolk University poll finds Hillary Clinton continues to lead the Democratic field with 41%, followed by Bernie Sanders at 23% and Joe Biden at 20%.” (Politico)
IN IT FOR THE LONG HAUL AP: “Using phrases like ‘go the distance,’ ‘marathon’ and ‘long haul,’ [Jeb Bush strategists] argue that [he] is uniquely positioned to outlast, … regardless of the fundraising number he posts for the third quarter.”
WHY THE GUN DEBATE WON’T CHANGE AFTER THE OREGON SHOOTING The Fix: “President Obama was visibly frustrated on Thursday night as he offered the latest in a long series of responses to a mass shooting in America. At the core of his speech was a call to action. Tightening gun laws, he said, “will require that the American people, individually — whether you are a Democrat or a Republican [or] an Independent — when you decide to vote for somebody, are making a determination as to whether this cause of continuing death for innocent people should be a relevant factor in your decision. If you think this is a problem, then you should expect your elected officials to reflect your views.” In other words: Vote for politicians that will vote to change the law.”
POLITICS OF THE ISSUE IN BRIEF (WashPo):
-New gun laws are NOT going to pass. Period. If the Democratic-controlled Senate could not pass expanded background checks after 20 children were massacred at an elementary school, the Republican-controlled Senate is not going to do anything that conservatives would see as interfering with the Second Amendment. Action is even less likely in the House, where the activist right just felled Speaker Boehner.
— BUT the shooting is about to generate a serious debate among Democratic presidential candidates. This benefits Hillary Clinton and hurts Bernie Sanders, especially going into their first debate on Oct.13.
— Gun control is one of a very small number of issues on which Clinton is to the Vermont senator’s left. (He’s also upset Latino groups with his stance on immigration.)
— The NRA backed Sanders when he first ran for Congress, and he has a mixed voting record on gun issues.
— Bernie is already on the defensive. On MSNBC last night, host Chris Hayes pressed him on why he voted against the Brady Bill (which was signed into law by Bill Clinton) and against allowing victims to file lawsuits against gun manufacturers. He didn’t respond directly when asked whether his views have evolved, only saying that he supports instant background checks and closing the gun show loophole.
PLENTY OF TALK. LITTLE ACTION This was the 45th shooting at a SCHOOL in 2015, according to Everytown for Gun Safety. Not one calendar week has passed during President Obama’s second term without a mass shooting, defined as an incident in which four or more people are shot.”
EXORCIST’ STEPS At long last, the District will recognize The Exorcist steps as a historically significant landmark. There will be a commemoration ceremony at the steep Georgetown staircase that Father Demien Karras plunged to his death down in the 1973 horror film on Oct. 30, per the Washington City Paper. (Admit it…you’ve been to those steps in Georgetown!)