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  March 1 (Super Tues)
  March 2-14
L blue   March 15-31
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News from the Votemaster

Boehner Quits

Riddle of the day: What does Pope Benedict have in common with Sarah Palin and John Boehner? Answer: they all quit before the job was finished. Boehner will resign from Congress the day before Halloween, a fitting choice since what comes next is scary. Boehner is Catholic and his lifelong goal was to get the pope to address Congress. He pulled it off and decided to leave when his spirits were high and his prospects were low. The Freedom Caucus in the House, a group of about 30 extreme conservatives, have been threatening to shut down the government, have the United States default on its debt, and more, and Boehner saw no easy way out. If he worked with the Democrats to avert each crisis as it arose, he would probably have been deposed as Speaker. If he didn't work with them, dreadful things would happen to the country and he would get the blame. In the end, it was too much for him.

What happens next is far from clear. Article 1, Sec. 2 of the Constitution reads: "The House of Representatives shall chuse [sic] their Speaker and other Officers ..." The Speaker need not be a member of the House or even a U.S. citizen. The House could pick Rush Limbaugh or the Queen of England if it wanted to. In the hierarchy, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) is next in line, followed by conservative Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) and then Conference Committee Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) as #4. Other powerful House members may also try to grab the brass ring. These include representatives Daniel Webster (R-FL), a conservative favorite and Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), whose campaign slogan could be "My name really is Jeb" (the eponymous presidential candidate is John E. Bush). The battle is on for a powerful but thankless and impossible job. But politicians just eat that up like kids eat ice cream. Whoever wins will be in precisely the same bind as Boehner: without the Freedom Caucus he doesn't have enough votes to pass bills, but anything they would sign on to will be filibustered by Senate Democrats or vetoed by President Obama if Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) uses the budget reconciliation process to ram it through the Senate with only his 55 caucus members. If McCarthy can't get enough votes and the House goes for some firebrand conservative, the results could be completely unpredictable. All in all, Republicans tend to be orderly so McCarthy is probably the favorite. Here is a a bit of background information on him.

Speaker resignations under pressure aren't unusual. In fact, they have become the norm. Boehner became Speaker in 2008 after then-Speaker Dennis Hastert resigned midterm after a series of scandals. Hastert's predecessor, Newt Gingrich, completed the term to which he was elected in 1996, but after leading the Republicans to a disastrous performance in the 1998 midterms, his caucus forced him to relinquish his gavel in January 1999. Democrats aren't immune to unhappy endings. In 1989, then-Speaker Jim Wright was forced out when it became known that he had asked donors to buy copies of his book in bulk to evade ethics rules on gifts.

Boehner hasn't announced what his future plans are. Probably he doesn't have any yet. But K street does. It is likely that a bidding war for him will start among the lobbying firms there. As someone who has been in the House for 25 years and ended as Speaker, he would be in great demand. Former Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who retired involuntarily last year, joined an investment bank. He got $1.4 million for signing up and will get $400,000 as base pay. But you needn't pity poor Eric, he'll get $1.6 million in incentive compensation in 2015. Boehner could easily leave Cantor in the dust. Boehner's predecessor, Dennis Hastert, made millions from lobbying, real estate deals, and board memberships, before getting indicted in May. Ironically, the indictment wasn't for any lobbying or sleazy deals but for withdrawing lots and lots of cash from his bank account to pay off a blackmailer.

No one saw Boehner's resignation coming. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) learned about it from a staffer's phone. Her reaction was: "God knows what's next over there. Coming from earthquake country, this is a big one."

Conservatives Will Now Gun for McConnell

The right wing of the Republican Party is celebrating John Boehner's departure as a victory, and soon they will turn their attention to finishing the trifecta: getting rid of Mitch McConnell, and shutting down the government on October 1.

The complaint about McConnell, as with Boehner, is his willingness to reach across the aisle and to work with the Democrats. Either the conservatives do not understand, or do not care, that Democratic members of Congress have agendas and constituents, too. There is no such thing in politics as an agreement where one party gets everything it wants and the other gets nothing (see also the Iran nuclear deal). Boehner knows this. McConnell knows this. Champion of the right Ronald Reagan knew this. When he was president, he would deliver a fiery speech about Communism, or the budget, or whatever the topic du jour was. Then, he would call Democratic Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill over to the White House, and they would work something out.

If the Republicans are not willing to work with the Democrats, then nothing will get done. That may please social conservatives and libertarians, but they are a minority of the electorate. Nearly all other voters have problems they would like to see addressed, whether it is the environment, college loans, military hospitals, tax rates, or health care. If nothing is being done on these issues, who will the voters blame (and punish) in 2016? Well, about a third of the voters will point the finger at the Democrats, no matter what, and about a third will do the same for the Republicans. The remaining third will take note that all of the leadership positions in Congress, and a majority of the seats in both houses, are held by Republicans. Harry Truman won a surprise victory in 1948 (the "Dewey defeats Truman" election) in large part by running against the "do-nothing" Republican congress. The same tack has the potential to work for the Democrats next year.

The "do nothing" charge (or worse) would resonate more strongly if the Republicans manage to shut down the government next month in an effort to defund Planned Parenthood. Boehner knows that this would almost certainly be a net negative for the party, as does McConnell, but it may be out of their power to act on that insight. Some of their colleagues disagree with their assessment (or, again, don't care). Foremost among that cadre is Ted Cruz, who would love to blame the shutdown on the Democrats, and then to use it as evidence that he is the only Republican who knows how to "deal" with them.

This is a high-stakes, high-risk game of poker that Cruz is playing. To start, a shutdown actually increases costs, as agencies overspend to prepare and/or to make up for lost time. This goes against the "fiscally responsible" reputation that Cruz (and other conservatives) attempt to cultivate for themselves. Meanwhile, a shutdown would not actually compel Planned Parenthood to close their doors, even temporarily. Most of the organization's funding comes from sources other than the federal government, and they would be able to cover their daily operating costs for as long as necessary. Any attempt to permanently cut funding (even if it did get past Congressional Democrats, which is unlikely) would be instantly vetoed by President Obama. As such, closing the government down would not even afford Cruz a photo-op of himself next to a Planned Parenthood clinic with a 'Closed' sign on the door, and would only serve to raise questions as to what the whole point is (or was).

It is hard to know exactly how many members of the Republican caucus would prefer to shut down, and how many fear potential blowback from voters, but the odds are that the majority is in the latter camp. Certainly, several prominent Republicans have been unusually vocal in their opposition, most notably (R-NH) Kelly Ayotte. Meanwhile, you don't get to be the Senate Majority Leader without knowing how to protect your flanks, so Mitch McConnell is likely to weather the storm. That said, the resignation of John Boehner would have been unthinkable 48 hours ago, so who knows how much of the trifecta Cruz and the conservatives will be able to complete?

Will The Pope's Visit Affect the 2016 Elections?

Pope Francis' speeches this week would have totally dominated the news this week had John Boehner not decided to throw in the gavel. But a year from now, will the popes view's matter? Paul Waldman doesn't think so. Very few Catholics take voting instructions from the pope these days. They don't even listen to him on moral issues. The vast majority of Catholic women of childbearing age use artificial birth control, despite the Church's strong stand against it. Those people who think that climate change is very important are still going to think so and those who don't think so aren't likely to be swayed by the pope's speeches. Low-information voters are probably unaware of what he said and why he said it. So in the end, his visit is not going to matter much. Besides, people have very short memories and a year from now, the visit is going to be very, very old news.

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---The Votemaster
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