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January 3, 2013, at 5:00 AM

For more than a decade, I've followed political news obsessively on Political Wire, covering four presidential election cycles, dozens of scandals, and several epic legislative battles. The Week has always been an important resource in understanding our politics. Today, I'm pleased to announce that I'm joining their team as editor-at-large with a new blog called The Cloakroom.

The cloakroom is where lawmakers in the House and Senate can privately mingle with members of their own parties, jockey for position within their own caucuses, and discuss their agendas. Free from the media glare, it's often where the big deals are cut and where alliances are formed. 

I hope to bring some of that atmosphere to this blog while analyzing the important political issues of our day....  More»

 

Many Democrats are unhappy with the compromise forged by Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to avert the "fiscal cliff." They say President Obama caved once again and bargained away his only real leverage — despite promises to hold firm on raising taxes on anyone making more than $250,000 a year.

But Democrats should be elated by a major political victory: They finally broke the Republican Party's intransigence on taxes that held firm for more than two decades.

Critics say President Obama's hand is weakened as Congress moves to the next phase of this budget battle, which involves the automatic "sequester" spending...  More»

 

With rock-bottom approval ratings and plenty of unfinished business from the 112th Congress, the newly sworn-in 113th Congress kicked off with a fresh start on Thursday.

There are 82 new members of the House of Representatives — 35 Republicans and 47 Democrats. In the upper chamber, there are 13 new senators — eight Democrats, four Republicans, and one independent.

Sen. Mark Kirk's (R-Ill.) inspiring return to the Senate, nearly a full year after suffering a massive stroke, set an uplifting tone for the day, but there were also a number of noteworthy firsts:

1. The Senate has a record-breaking 20 female senators — 4 Republicans and 16 Democrats.

2. Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), appointed to replace outgoing Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), became the first African American senator from the deep South since Reconstruction....  More»

 

Somewhere along the line, political consultants must have told politicians and their spokespeople to repeat their answers over and over again. The logic behind their recommendation: News organizations often have space for only a single quote per person, so if you utter the same sentence over and over again, they'll be forced to use it. 

That may have worked many years ago, but it doesn't work anymore. Today's reporters shame repetitive pols by releasing the video of their full, evasive, interview. And it's not just broadcast reporters who shame obfuscating politicians — print reporters often post the video to their newspaper websites as well.

Ed Miliband, Leader of the British Labour Party, offered a classic example of why the "repeat your message" strategy doesn't work anymore....  More»

 

Although Matthew Yglesias says we’ve entered "an era of semi-permanent fiscal policy crisis," there’s still hope to think the next round of budget negotiations — in two months when the U.S. Treasury is unable to borrow money and automatic spending cuts kick in — just might be a little bit easier.

1. The big reason for optimism is that the issue over tax rates is settled. Republican resistance to ever raising taxes on anyone was finally broken earlier this week. Taxes were raised on the wealthiest Americans and will bring in about $620 billion in new revenues over the next decade....  More»

 

Politicians and their staffs often spend a lot of time drafting statements with perfect, focus-tested messages. But they often neglect to consider what will appear behind them when they deliver those messages during interviews and speeches.
 
It’s true that politicians are among the most image-conscious, often conducting interviews and delivering speeches in front of a row of flags, banners bearing a campaign slogan — "For a Brighter Future," "Lower Taxes" — or iconic landmarks. But too often, thinking about the background falls through the cracks....  More»

 
January 7, 2013, at 7:00 AM

President Obama and Republicans apparently moved even further apart this weekend in their contentious negotiations over the country's long-term debt.

In his weekly radio address on Saturday, President Obama declared he would not negotiate over the debt ceiling: "One thing I will not compromise over is whether or not Congress should pay the tab for a bill they've already racked up. If Congress refuses to give the United States the ability to pay its bills on time, the consequences for the entire global economy could be catastrophic."

For more than a month, Republicans have suggested they would use the debt ceiling as leverage to extract more concessions...  More»

 
January 7, 2013, at 11:10 AM

Elections were once decided in the smoke-filled rooms of party bosses. Then they were waged in war rooms of political operatives. Today, they're won in computer caves.

Inside the Cave is a must-read look at the Obama re-election campaign's digital operation. The Obama "cave" at its Chicago headquarters buzzed with more than 50 analysts who used reams of data to predict the individual behavior of tens of millions of Americans voters. It's not hyperbole to suggest the Obama campaign may have known who you were going to vote for before you did.

As Sasha Issenberg found in his own reporting, the Obama campaign created a system "that predicted the behavior of individual humans. The campaign didn't just know who you were; it knew exactly how it could turn you into the type of person it wanted you to be....  More»

 
January 9, 2013, at 9:15 AM

What’s the best way for politicians to handle hecklers who interrupt a speech?
 
Should they give hecklers a forum to express their views, or is it better to embarrass them by mocking their ideas in front of the crowd?
 
As these videos of Mitt Romney and President Obama show, both approaches can work. Although the two men differed in tone, both employed a similar tactic: They offered the floor to their hecklers before re-claiming the floor. That approach helps neutralize opponents who would otherwise continue shouting during their speeches.

It’s worth noting that both men were speaking to friendly crowds – an important point that worked in their favor.
 
...  More»

 
January 9, 2013, at 10:40 AM

President Obama hasn’t even started his second term as president, but from all appearances it looks like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is already positioning himself for the 2016 presidential campaign.

Of course, Christie told ABC News this morning that it would be "crazy" for anybody to try to "plan four years from now."

He added: "What I want to do now is be the governor of New Jersey, as I said, for the last three years, I’d like to do it for the next four."

But with Christie’s face gracing the cover of this week’s TIME magazine and his approval rate soaring in his home state, it’s hard to take him at his word....  More»

 
January 15, 2013, at 9:17 AM

Despite the success of the gun lobby blocking new gun control measures over the last few decades, public opinion has reached a tipping point in favor of new curbs on guns. It comes just as President Obama is set to make a new push for gun control legislation.

A new Pew Research poll finds there are now "clear areas of agreement" on a variety of gun control proposals with 85 percent of Americans in favor of making private gun sales and sales at gun shows subject to background checks. In addition, 80 percent now support laws to prevent mentally ill people from purchasing guns. Both measures have broad support across party lines.

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll confirms these findings and also shows 58 percent of Americans support passing a new assault weapons ban....  More»

 

The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that House Republicans are "still unsure whether they should use a debt-ceiling deadline to force a decisive showdown" with President Obama over cutting government spending.

Party leaders apparently didn't coalesce around a strategy to present to the rank-and-file at a GOP retreat that begins today in Williamsburg, Va.

But GOP backbenchers are already coming out against the debt ceiling as "hostage strategy." As Steve Benen notes, that "wasn't the case in 2011, when literally zero GOP lawmakers publicly denounced their party's hostage strategy, but it's certainly true now....  More»

 

For the second time in two weeks, the House passed legislation by violating the so-called "Hastert rule," which states that any bill brought to a vote on the House floor must be supported by a majority of the majority party.

Republicans have used the Hastert rule consistently since House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) wielded the gavel in the 1990s to effectively limit the power of Democrats.

Last night, the House passed a bill to aid Hurricane Sandy relief efforts by a 241 to 180 vote. But as First Read notes, "the real story is the vote breakdown: Only 49 Republicans voted for the measure — so just 20 percent of the caucus — while a whopping 179 Republicans voted against the measure. By comparison, 192 Democrats voted for the legislation, and just one (Tennessee Congressman Jim Cooper) voted against....  More»

 
January 16, 2013, at 3:00 PM

As we noted earlier, the House of Representatives has already twice passed legislation this year in violation of the "Hastert Rule."

The GOP leadership needed a majority of Democrats to pass legislation to avoid the fiscal cliff and to provide Hurricane Sandy relief aid to impacted communities. Between those two high-profile votes, there were 29 House Republicans who broke with the majority of their caucus and joined Democrats to pass the bills. 

These 29 "double-defectors" could be considered prime targets for GOP primary challengers, likely with support from Tea Partiers and other fiscal conservative groups such as the Club for Growth.

Interestingly, many of these lawmakers are already potentially vulnerable due to a recent leftward shift in their voting records....  More»

 

After a tough election season and an equally tough lame duck session of Congress, House Republicans are regrouping at an image makeover retreat in Williamsburg, Va. this week.

But it's not looking so good.

Reporters quickly noted that a session for lawmakers called "Discussion on Successful Communication with Minorities and Women" will actually take place in the "Burwell Plantation" room at the resort where the retreat is being held.

It turns out, according to NBC News, the room "is named after the Burwell Family, a wealthy family that owned many slaves in 18th century Southern Virginia."

The irony of learning how to woo minorities in a room named after slaveholders was not lost on Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.): "I don't pick the rooms we meet in."

But the missteps didn't end there....  More»

 

In one of the most significant and potentially groundbreaking political announcements in decades, President Obama’s re-election team announced they are transforming their campaign operation into a permanent advocacy organization called Organizing for Action.

Obama campaign manager Jim Messina, who will head up the new entity, told campaign donors in an email that it was "the next phase of this movement."

He added: "If we can take the enthusiasm and passion that people showed throughout the campaign and channel it into the work ahead of us, we will be unstoppable....  More»

 

Just days after President Obama unveiled the most ambitious gun control proposal in decades, the first national Gun Appreciation Day was held on Saturday. It was organized by a Republican consulting firm urging gun owners to stand firm against the proposed new curbs.

But based on news reports of the last 24 hours, it didn't go very well.

The Raleigh News & Observer reports that three people were shot when a loaded shotgun accidentally discharged at the Dixie Gun and Knife Show at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that one man was left wounded after an accidental shooting at the Medina Gun Show in Medina, Ohio.

The Indianapolis Star reports a man was injured as he was leaving the 1500 Gun & Knife Show at the Indiana State Fairgrounds when his gun accidentally discharged....  More»

 

Even as President Obama spoke of coming together to solve the nation's problems, he clearly and firmly rejected key elements of the Republican Party philosophy.

Among the direct hits:

1. "Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science."

As Obama called for the country to respond to the threat of climate change, he issued a stark reminder that many Republicans seem to reject basic scientific findings.

2. "Enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war."

Obama rose to national prominence by opposing wars started by George W. Bush, and he rarely misses a chance to remind Americans that Republican foreign policy led to open-ended...  More»

 

Republican legislators in several states have begun to push changes to the way their states allocate electoral college votes. 

These states — which include Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia — have one thing in common: They all voted for President Obama in last year's presidential election but are controlled by Republican governors and legislators.

Molly Ball reports that these efforts "appear to have sprouted independently as the work of individual lawmakers." But now, a Republican operative "has a plan to take the idea national."

GOP strategist Jordan Gehrke has teamed up with former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell (R) to "raise money for an effort to propose similar electoral reforms in states across the country....  More»

 

Although Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) insists President Obama's goal is to "annihilate the Republican Party" and "shove us into the dustbin of history," it's actually internal disagreements that are causing the party to fracture.

As Robert Reich forcefully argues, "The GOP crackup was probably inevitable. Inconsistencies and tensions within the GOP have been growing for years — ever since Ronald Reagan put together the coalition that became the modern Republican Party."

"All President Obama has done is finally found ways to exploit these inconsistencies....  More»

 

Republicans took another step toward taking back the U.S. Senate when Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) announced this weekend that he would not run for re-election in 2014.

While Harkin likely faced a close race, he was the candidate most likely to hold the seat for Democrats. Now his party faces a real prospect of losing the seat. The Rothenberg Political Report notes that without Harkin on the ballot, "the Hawkeye State now moves far up on GOP target lists."

Combined with Sen. Jay Rockefeller's (D-W.V.) retirement announcement earlier this month, it's a real blow to Democrats.

Here's what's at stake in the midterm elections: Democrats will defend 21 Senate seats while Republicans need to defend just 14.

But as the Washington Post notes, it's an even steeper climb than it looks....  More»

 

Last night's joint 60 Minutes interview of President Obama and Hillary Clinton was extraordinary.

As First Read notes, President Obama made clear he wanted to thank Clinton for being his secretary of state but was especially grateful that she accepted and kept the Democratic Party united during his first term.

But what really made last night's friendliness remarkable is how unfriendly the two politicians were just a few short years ago.

Here are 5 examples:

1. "You're likable enough, Hillary."

...  More»

 
January 29, 2013, at 3:05 PM

President Obama embraced the U.S. Senate's bipartisan agreement for immigration reform as "very much in line" with his own principles at a major speech this afternoon in Nevada.

Said Obama: "The good news is that — for the first time in many years — Republicans and Democrats seem ready to tackle this problem together."

The speech comes as both parties have a political interest in passing a bill — for President Obama and Democrats, it's delivering on a campaign promise made four years ago; for Republicans, it's to avoid again losing the Latino vote by a lopsided 71 percent to 27 percent margin.

Senate leaders suggested a bill could reach President Obama's desk by late spring or early summer.

What could go wrong?

For starters, immigration reform efforts in 2006 and again in 2009 were led by many of the same senators ...  More»

 

Just days before Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) is set to take over as chairman of the prestigious Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he finds himself embroiled in a potential scandal involving a campaign contributor and Dominican prostitutes.

The questions also come as Menendez is playing a lead role in helping craft a bipartisan immigration reform plan.

The Daily Caller first broke the story of a possible inquiry last week, but the Miami Herald reported Wednesday that federal agents actually raided the home of Dr. Salomon Melgen, who is "suspected of providing free trips and even underage Dominican prostitutes" to Menendez....  More»

 

Just over a week since he was inaugurated for a second term, President Obama is off to a fast start pushing comprehensive legislation on two issues that have stalled in Congress for years: gun control and immigration reform.

Rush Limbaugh expressed exasperation on his radio show at the president's fast pace: "Yesterday we had to get rid of our guns. Today we gotta grant amnesty... They're running the no-huddle offense on us. We don't even have time to catch our breath. They're running play after play after play."

Meanwhile, a new Washington Post-ABC News poll suggests Obama is gaining momentum....  More»

 

If the 2012 elections proved anything, it's that words matter. Unfortunate comments about rape by Rep. Todd Akin (R) in Missouri and Treasurer Richard Mourdock (R) in Indiana likely cost the Republican Party two Senate seats they otherwise would have won.

And Mitt Romney's infamous "47 percent" remarks may have cost Republicans the White House as well.

It was so bad that Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) even urged his party last month to "stop being the stupid party."

With that in mind, here's a round up of the 10 most controversial comments — some inflammatory, some just plain crazy — made by Republican politicians in the first month of ...  More»

 

In the few days since John Kerry resigned to become Secretary of State, five prominent Republicans have passed on the chance to run for his seat in a June 25 special election.

On the Democratic side, two well-known lawmakers, Rep. Ed Markey (D) and Rep. Stephen Lynch (D), have launched their bids, setting up an April 30 primary.

Why the cold feet among Republicans?

One reason is timing. The candidate who wins in June will have to quickly gear up to run again in 17 months, when Kerry would have been up for re-election.

Another reason is the strong and heavily financed Democratic field of potential candidates who could run either this year or next.

But Massachusetts voters famously bucked their Democratic tradition a few years ago and elected Scott Brown (R) to fill the vacancy left by the death of legendary Sen....  More»

 

After a disastrous election cycle for his super PAC, Karl Rove announced he's forming a new group — the Conservative Victory Project — with the sole purpose of ensuring that "electable candidates" emerge from the Republican primaries.

Rove pointed to candidates last year in Missouri and Indiana as justification for his new group. Rep. Todd Akin (R) and Richard Mourdock (R) both made extreme comments on rape and abortion that Rove and his allies believe caused the GOP to lose winnable races. The comments also hurt the Republican brand more broadly....  More»

 

When hackers broke into former President George W. Bush's email last week, they found photographs of unfinished self portraits of the former president in the shower and the bath tub.

Bush apparently sent the photos to his sister, and though they were never intended for public view, the art critics have already weighed in. Bush was not a president known for self-introspection, and the find has many looking for clues into what the once most powerful man in the world thinks about himself and his record.

The Huffington Post says most formal art critics "were perplexed by the images."

Here are a few reviews:

New York Times: "The two paintings could be said to depict the introverted self-absorption for which Mr. Bush is known. Perhaps, he is trying to cleanse himself in a more metaphorical way, seeking a kind of redemption from his less fortuitous decisions ...  More»

 

With Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) giving the Republican response to President Obama's State of the Union address, many are asking if he's the answer to his party's electoral woes.

Time magazine even put him on the cover and asked if he's the Republican savior.

But there are three big reasons why it's unlikely the Florida senator is on a fast track to the presidency in 2016.

1. Republicans almost always pick the next guy in line.

Ever since the untested Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.) lost in a historic landslide in 1964, the Republican Party has nearly always picked a nominee who has previously run for national office....  More»

 
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