Tentative Primary and Caucus Schedule
  March 1 (Super Tues)
  March 2-14
L blue   March 15-31
Delegates needed for nomination:
GOP: 1236,   Dem: 2242
Map explained
New polls:  
Dem pickups:  
GOP pickups:  

News from the Votemaster

Another Day, More Speaker Drama

The Congressional Circus continued this weekend. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), whose primary claims to fame are that he is the richest member of Congress and that he bankrolled the recall of California Gov. Gray Davis, is signaling his interest in the job, while Paul Ryan continues to waffle. The Freedom Caucus, meanwhile, continues to make clear that they are not happy with Ryan as a candidate. ThinkProgress lists their three main complaints:

  1. He has supported immigration reform
  2. He was in favor of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP)
  3. He compromised on the 2013 budget that increased spending

Given these objections, the headaches that come with the speakership, and the fact that the job is not a good path to the presidency, it seems unlikely that Ryan will allow himself to be drafted.

It is worth asking what the Freedom Caucusers' end game is, as they surely can't believe they will get one of their own elected to the speakership. The Washington Post has a pretty good answer to that question. The short version: procedural changes in Congress.

In slightly more detail, the first procedural change that the conservatives want is the use of "regular order" in the House of Representatives. The essential notion, which is open to fairly wide interpretation, is that the House should dispense with the various shortcuts and procedural compromises that are currently used in order to allow business to get done. Regular order is a much more basic version of parliamentary procedure that allows for more discussion and debate and amendment of pending legislation. But while it may sound good in theory, in practice it is not workable. Debate over bills could easily take weeks, or even months, and filibustering (currently only possible in the Senate) would become a regular part of House business. The shortcuts are in place for a reason; it was Thomas Jefferson himself who said, "If the present Congress errs in too much talking, how can it be otherwise in a body to which the people send 150 lawyers?" That was 200 years ago; now the House has more like 300 lawyers.

The other problem with "regular order," this one political in nature, is that it is subject to gamesmanship. The Freedom Caucusers know that it would allow them to attach pet amendments to bills—for example, bills establishing a national park, declaring "National Ice Cream day," promoting Lt. Gen. Ima Soldier to full general, and funding the Congressional gym might all get amendments that would also defund Planned Parenthood. This would annoy the next Speaker, who would also have to deal with the fact that the same opportunity would be available to the politicians on the other side of the aisle. The Democrats might also set up bills deliberately designed to embarrass their opponents. For example, a military spending bill that was generally acceptable to all parties might acquire an amendment calling for full funding of Obamacare. A Republican who voted against, because of the Obamacare, might then find himself in trouble during his next campaign for voting against a military spending bill.

The second procedural change the Freedom Caucusers want is changes in the membership of the Republican Steering Committee (RSC), which hands out committee assignments and chairmanships. Not surprisingly, they want it to be easier for new or very junior members of Congress to land important committee assignments (as well as seats on the RSC itself). This would similarly create headaches for the new Speaker; plum committee assignments are one of the few tools available for imposing party discipline (used for both rewarding loyal partisans and punishing defectors).

These demands make clear that the Freedom Caucus is thinking about bigger prizes than just the speakership. The potential damage they could do with those prizes, and the chaos they could create, just makes it all the more likely that they will not get what they want. (Z)

Koch Opposes "Special Interests"

Charles Koch, the elder of the famous Koch Brothers, gave a rare and far-ranging interview to CBS News in which he discussed his political activism in depth. In the first segment, aired Sunday, he shared opinions on George W. Bush ("I'm sure he meant well"), his own politics ("I consider myself a classical liberal"), and his personal philosophy ("I'd rather die for something than live for nothing"). The money quote, however, is this one:

Yeah, but my interest is, just as it's been in business, is what will help people improve their lives, and to get rid of these special interests. That's the whole thing that drives me.

As the interviewer (Anthony Mason) observes, Koch does not seem to fully grasp that he himself is a "special interest." But in any case, the piece is worth watching for anyone who wants to know more about a person (and a family) that has made themselves among the most important movers and shakers in American politics. The second segment of the interview airs today on CBS This Morning. (Z)

Obama May Issue Executive Order on Gun Sales

The recent incidents in Oregon, Arizona, and Texas have raised the total number of school shootings in America since 2013 to a staggering 149. Now comes word that President Obama is giving strong consideration to issuing an executive order in response to the problem. It is not certain precisely what steps he might take, but the most likely would be to declare that anyone who sells more than 100 (or maybe 50) guns per year is classified as a "dealer." This would require them to get a license, and to conduct background checks when selling at gun shows, thus closing (or at least shrinking) the so-called "gun-show loophole."

In terms of the 2016 election, such a move would be a huge victory for Hillary Clinton. If the President were to issue an executive order just a week or two after Hillary Clinton embraced the same approach, she would surely claim some of the credit. At the same time, any fallout would be directed solely to him. And if the executive order proved politically disastrous, Clinton could quietly back off the idea. Any 2016 candidate would love to be in that position—accruing benefits without suffering consequences, and that's where Clinton currently sits.

The icing on the cake for her is that her main opponent, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), has not been a strong supporter of gun control, mostly because he represents a rural state with many hunters. So on an issue important to many of his supporters, she is further to the left than he is. An executive order will get a lot of news and she will be sure to broadcast her support for it loud and clear. (Z & V)

Benghazi Inquiry Now Focused on Emails

Another story out of Washington that is undoubtedly making the Clinton campaign happy is the news that the Congressional committee investigating Benghazi has turned its attention to her email server.

Benghazi never did as much damage to Hillary Clinton as Republicans had hoped. Maybe the details were too fuzzy and complicated, maybe it was hard to sell the idea that the Secretary of State should be personally familiar with the security details at every single American embassy, maybe people were too busy blaming the actual perpetrators. In any event, the recent admissions by Kevin McCarthy and Bradley Podliska have effectively killed the "scandal." Continuing the investigation with such a specific focus certainly does not help dispel the notion that it is a witch hunt.

It goes further than that, however. Unlike Benghazi, the scandal that has had some legs is emailgate. But if the two become intertwined in the minds of voters, Republicans risk costing themselves both of what appeared to be their two most potent weapons heading into 2016. From a national security standpoint, the Benghazi investigation should have been concluded in something far less than the 17 months it has taken so far. And from a political standpoint, the GOP would now be wise to quickly and quietly end it right now. (Z)

Part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Leaked

Wikileaks has apparently acquired and released a portion of the controversial and secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement. While the negotiations are still a work in progress, the leaked portion certainly does not help to assuage concerns about the deal. It reveals that web hosting services in 12 nations would be subject to copyright infringement claims made in any of the 11 other nations. So, a nation that tends to very cautious in declaring copyright violations (say, Canada) would be subject to the rulings of a nation that tends to be very aggressive in that regard (say, Japan). The most obvious effect would be to put all file sharing services (like DropBox and Streamfile) out of business; there might also be a significant impact on sites like YouTube and Instagram.

The TPP is only going to get more attention as the negotiations progress, particularly once the various national governments decide on ratification (at which point, the agreement won't be a secret any more). And it is increasingly certain that the deal will be a millstone around the neck of Joe Biden, should he enter the race, and possibly around the neck of any Republican who embraces the agreement. (Z)

Chris Christie Doesn't Get It

Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) appeared on Fox News Radio on Friday and blasted President Obama's foreign policy, saying, "I mean, Syria is on fire, Iraq is on fire, Egypt is under martial law, Yemen is on fire, Lebanon is on fire with Hezbollah and Hamas shooting rockets into Israel, and he has put Iran on the path to nuclear weapons." The Governor concluded that, due to these failures, Obama should just leave office early.

First of all, as a statement of foreign policy, the statement leaves a little something to be desired. If Chris Christie's standard for foreign policy success is peace on Earth, then he might want to take note that mankind has been completely at peace for only about 200 of the last 3,500 years. If his standard is simply peace in the Middle East, well, that means every Republican and every Democrat since World War II would have had to leave office early.

More importantly, however, is that Chris Christie continues to be committed to presenting himself as a staunch anti-Obama conservative. It's not going to work. When a Republican gets elected governor of a blue state like New Jersey, there is going to be a presumption—whether true or not—that they are a moderate. Christie has helped to encourage that presumption with his positions on homosexuality (maybe it's not a sin), illegal immigration (it's not necessarily a crime), and gun control (it's ok, in some cases). The famous Obama hug, following Hurricane Sandy, just sealed the case.

Christie is selling himself as an arch-conservative because he believes that is what it takes to win the Republican primary. This is a testament to the power of the far right in the Republican Party. However, in committing to that analysis of electoral history, Christie is overlooking a more important lesson: A politician must work within the limits imposed by their strengths and their weaknesses. JFK, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton were very good public speakers, so they gave a lot of speeches. LBJ, Richard Nixon, and Gerald Ford were not, so they did not (relatively speaking). Reagan and Truman would never have tried to paint themselves as moderates, Eisenhower accepted his well-deserved reputation as a centrist. The basic truth here is that you can puff up your resume a bit but you can't present yourself as something that is fundamentally at odds with who you are.

If Chris Christie had owned his reputation as a moderate, he might have adopted a version of the strategy Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) is presently pursuing. Cruz is quietly working behind the scenes to inherit the supporters of Donald Trump, Rand Paul, and other conservative candidates once they falter. Christie might have done the same with the moderates, setting himself up to benefit when and if Jeb Bush and John Kasich falter. Then, if he managed to be the last moderate standing, he could have sold himself as someone who would work with moderate Republicans and Democrats to get things done (like Reagan did, incidentally). In a time of filibusters and government shutdowns and Speakers of the House being chewed up and spit out by their own party, it could have been a powerful message. It might well have been enough to win the nomination, as a sizable percentage of Republicans are growing exasperated with the Tea Partiers and social conservatives.

It's a risky strategy, though not a hopeless one. Instead, Christie has chosen to present himself as another Ted Cruz. And we already have one of those. (Z)

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---The Votemaster
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