TIME 2016 Election

Republican Presidential Hopefuls Stay Out of Senate Fight on Immigration

Sen. Rubio (R-FL) Discusses Obama's Shift In Cuba Policy
T.J. Kirkpatrick—Getty Images Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) reacts to U.S. President Barack Obama's announcement about revising policies on U.S.-Cuba relations on December 17, 2014 in Washington, DC.

The path to the White House does not lead through Congressional gridlock.

As Congress heads toward a showdown over immigration and the budget for the Department of Homeland Security, the three Republican Senators who are considering running for president are staying on the sidelines.

Sens. Rand Paul, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz are hanging back from the fight, letting others like Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions lead the strategy and take the megaphone. Top national Republican strategists say that’s a smart move, given the difficulty of scoring a clean win in this legislative mess.

“The main disadvantage of being a sitting senator is that your opponents and the media force you to own every controversy during every legislative fight, even though some outcomes are usually out of your control,” said Kevin Madden, a senior aide in former Gov. Mitt Romney’s presidential campaigns.

The Homeland Security funding fight is also a particularly bad one to champion. The current Republican strategy is to risk a shutdown of the agency in an attempt to force President Obama to override his own executive actions to defer deportations for millions in the U.S. illegally. But many of the related programs are paid for by fees, which means a shutdown won’t affect them, while polls show the public will blame Republicans for a shutdown.

“This is working out exactly the way the President and Democrats want it to work out,” says Rob Jesmer, a top member of FWD.us, a pro-immigration reform group, and former executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee.

“We’re not going to look very good,” he added of Republicans. “No one is going to look very good. The sooner this gets behind us the better it is.”

The fight has already caused headaches for one potential White House suitor. After he simply noted that Republicans don’t have enough votes in the Senate to pass a bill override Obama’s executive actions, Rubio faced headlines in conservative media that said he had “caved,” “folded” and “retreated,” even though he had stopped short of actually calling for a spending bill without conditions.

Paul and Cruz, meantime, haven’t paid any price back home for laying low.

Ray Sullivan, a chief of staff of former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, says that Cruz faces “no negative ramifications” in the state by going bold on the immigration fight. “From my standpoint, most Texans didn’t notice the difference and appreciated the willingness to take principled stands to try to shrink the size and scope of the federal government,” he says of the 2013 government shutdown, in which Cruz played an outsized role.

“If you’re looking at it in the context of who’s going to be blamed, who’s fault is it and what’s the political ramifications of it, to me it’s clear: we’re here because of Obama, we’re here because of Senate Democrats,” says Scott Jennings, a top GOP consultant based out of Kentucky. “I would stay focused on Barack Obama. This is his fault, we’re here because of him.”

“I think that’s how people here in Kentucky view it,” he adds.

Paul, Cruz and Rubio have portrayed themselves as disrupters and outsiders who came to fix Washington. That message is reinforced by a hard-line position on Obama’s “executive overreach.” Even if the particular strategy is ineffective, voters may be more focused on a broader theme each of the prospective candidates presents. Madden, the Romney aide, notes that whatever image the candidate creates may be more important than any particular D.C. bout.

“Primary voters in early states that shape the presidential field respond more to their overall sense of where a candidate is on big issues,” says Madden. “Are they strong on national security? Smart and in touch on the economy? They tend to shape those opinions based on what they see and hear from candidates in Iowa and New Hampshire instead of what’s taking place on the floor of the Senate.”

But the Homeland Security battle is a reminder of Washington’s “gridlock and breakdown,” according to Sullivan, and could help a governor candidate who not only takes principled stands but delivers results in his or her state.

“Members of Congress who are running or contemplating running for president will be weighted down by their association with Washington DC,” he says. “Our party has generally nominated governors who are far outside of the Beltway.”

TIME Taxes

Most Americans Say the Rich Aren’t Taxed Enough

taxes
Getty Images

And many claim the middle class pays too much

Tax season is here and more than two-thirds of Americans think the wealthy pay too little in federal dues, according to a new poll. What’s more, six in 10 say the middle class pays too much.

The Associated Press-GfK poll, which comes in the wake of President Barack Obama’s proposals in his 2016 budget to raise investment taxes on high-income American families, found overall that 56% of respondents think their own federal taxes are too steep.

It also found widespread support for specific tax-raising measures: A bid to raise capital gains taxes on households with incomes greater than $500,000 saw support at 56%, while only 16% opposed it. And a new tax on banks was supported by 47%, while only 13% opposed it.

The estate tax did not fare as well. Thirty-six percent opposed what would require estates to pay taxes on inherited assets, while 27% approved. Despite the poll’s apparent show of support for the President’s proposals, none are expected to win the support of the Republican-controlled Congress.

[AP]

TIME Congress

Homeland Security Goes on Offense for Fight With Congress

US Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson listens while US President Barack Obama makes a statement to the press after a meeting in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Oct. 6, 2014 in Washington, DC.
Brendan Smialowski—AFP/Getty Images US Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson listens while US President Barack Obama makes a statement to the press after a meeting in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Oct. 6, 2014 in Washington, DC.

The Obama Administration made a last-minute public plea for Congress to fund the Department of Homeland Security, sending Secretary Jeh Johnson on a tour of political talk shows Sunday.

As the deadline approaches for the department’s funding, Johnson echoed the administration line that Congress should simply fund the department without conditions.

Republicans in Congress hoped to attach language to the funding bill that would override Obama’s decision to defer deportations for millions in the U.S. illegally — an idea that both Senate Democrats and the president have rejected.

Johnson used appearances on all five Sunday morning political talk shows to press his case:

• On CNN’s State of the Union, he said it was “absurd that we are even having this conversation,” while noting that some 30,000 employees would have to be furloughed as a result of the fight.

• On Fox News Sunday, he called Congress’s effort to block the executive action on immigration through a funding fight is “unacceptable from a public safety, national security view.”

• On ABC’s This Week, he said funding the agency is “imperative” amid the new threats from terrorist groups like al-Shabaab, which this weekend reportedly threatened an attack on Minneapolis’s Mall of America.

• On CBS’s Face the Nation, he said things from cyber-security to the harsh conditions the nation would be affected if “headquarter staff is narrowed down to a skeleton.”

• On NBC’s Meet the Press, he said flat out, “we need Congress to fund the Department of Homeland Security,” listing people and programs that would be placed in jeopardy if funding runs out on Friday.

The five talk-show effort — known in Beltway circles as the “full Ginsburg” after the first person to attempt it — was a sign of how seriously the White House intends to press its advantage on the dispute with Congress. Polls show the majority of Americans would blame Congress if the agency shuts down.

While that would be a public relations disaster, it’s unclear if it would really affect national security much.

The majority of Department of Homeland Security staff would still report for duty—from TSA agents at airports to the men and women of the Coast Guard—but they wouldn’t be receiving a paycheck.

Some Republicans have argued that they should call off the funding fight, given a Texas judge’s decision last week to temporarily block the Administration from going ahead with the deferrals.

Sen. John McCain called the Texas decision an “exit sign” on Face the Nation on Sunday, while Sen. Lindsey Graham called on Republicanson This Week to back the legal challenge to the executive action rather than blocking funding.

“The worst possible outcome for this nation would be to defund the Department of Homeland Security given the multiple threats we face to our homeland and I will not be part of that,” Graham said, adding that Republicans being the face of the partial shutdown would “add gasoline to the fire.”

TIME 2014 Election

Democrats Call for Focus on Narrative, White Voters After 2014 Losses

President Obama speaks as Democratic National Committee Chair and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Vice Chair for Voter Registration and Participation Donna Brazile share a moment during the General Session of the 2015 DNC Winter Meeting, Feb. 20, 2015 in Washington, DC.
Alex Wong—Getty Images President Obama speaks as Democratic National Committee Chair and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Vice Chair for Voter Registration and Participation Donna Brazile share a moment during the General Session of the 2015 DNC Winter Meeting, Feb. 20, 2015 in Washington, DC.

The party chair calls a new report "tough love"

The Democratic Party’s autopsy of its devastating defeat in 2014 calls for a renewed focus on the party’s message and winning back white Southern voters.

In preliminary findings unveiled Saturday at a meeting of the Democratic National Committee, a task force studied the party’s defeats in 2010 and 2014—despite its victories in the 2008 and 2012 presidential years. It called for the creation of a “National Narrative Project” to help the party develop a message that can survive in midterm election years.

“This morning we’re going to hear some tough love, and frankly we need to hear it,” said Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who chairs the DNC.

“It is strongly believed that the Democratic Party is loosely understood as a long list of policy statements and not as people with a common set of core values (fairness, equality, opportunity),” the report found. “This lack of cohesive narrative impedes the party’s ability to develop and maintain a lifelong dialogue and partnership with voters.”

The report, developed by party leaders and operatives, encourages Democrats to develop a three-cycle plan to increase representation in state legislatures for the purposes of the 2020 redistricting cycle. Republican gains in states in 2010 led to gerrymandering in their favor in the last decennial redrawing of congressional district lines, and further gains in 2014 made the Democrats’ challenge to reverse the trend all the greater.

“The Task Force recommends that the DNC—along with the Democratic family of organizations, state parties and allied organizations—create and resource a three-cycle plan that targets and wins back legislative chambers in order to prepare for redistricting efforts,” the document states.

The report also calls on the party to continue pushing for right-to-vote legislation, as well as step up efforts nationwide to recruit candidates at local and state levels to build the next generation of party leaders. Additionally, it calls on the party to continue to study why voters drop-off from presidential years to midterm elections, resulting in a more favorable playing field for the GOP, as well as ways to prevent the hemorrhaging of white voters .

“In order to win elections, the Democratic Party must reclaim voters that we’ve lost including white Southern voters,” the report states. The topic was a subject of discussion Thursday during a meeting of state party chairs, led by South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Jaime Harrison. On Saturday, Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, who chaired the task force, faulted the party for having “a single-minded electoral strategy” focused on White house and said, “the Democratic Party has lost its way.”

Republicans reacted skeptically.

“The first step toward fixing a problem is admitting that you have one, but it’s clear the DNC isn’t willing to come to terms with why their party lost in historic fashion last November,” Republican National Committee spokesman Michael Short said in a statement. “The reality is their divisive message doesn’t resonate and their liberal policies don’t work. And after years of neglect from President Obama, his chosen heir Hillary Clinton will be inheriting a cash-strapped national party teetering on the edge of complete irrelevancy.”

The task force included DNC vice chairwoman Donna Brazile, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt, former Obama digital director Teddy Goff, lawyer Marc Elias, Beshear, and operative Maria Cardona.

The full report is due to be release in May.

TIME Congress

Colorado’s Pot Rhetoric Hits Capitol Hill

File - In this May 5, 2011, an unidentified man is seen smoking medical marijuana during karaoke night at the Cannabis Café, in Portland, Ore
Rick Bowmer—AP A man is seen smoking medical marijuana during karaoke night at the Cannabis Café, in Portland, Ore. in 2011.

Think booze, not drugs

Marijuana legalization advocates appear to know a good slogan when they see one.

Democratic Rep. Jared Polis of Colorado introduced a bill in Congress Friday that borrows its name from the successful ballot measure in his home state: The Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act.

As the title suggests, the legislation would remove marijuana from the list of controlled substances and put oversight of it under the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives rather than the Drug Enforcement Agency.

Like similar bills introduced by Polis and former Reps. Barney Frank and Ron Paul, it’s not going anywhere in Washington any time soon. While legalization of recreational marijuana may be underway in Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska and the District of Columbia, it remains a non-starter on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers even moved to bar D.C. from going ahead with its plans.

But Polis’ bill title is revealing. Prior efforts to roll back federal marijuana laws went for 10th Amendment language (Respect State Marijuana Laws Act of 2013) or harkened back to fights over alcohol in the 1920s and ’30s (Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2011), while ballot measures outside Colorado went by numbers (Initiative 502, Ballot Measure 2, Measure 91).

But “Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol” is catchy and succinct. It avoids the pitfalls of talking about “legalization” (too vague), “prohibition” (too old-timey) and “recreational marijuana” (too permissive). And it makes its case in four quick words.

Whether it’s on Capitol Hill or in the next statehouse fight, expect to see this phrase more in the future.

TIME Secret Service

Top Republican Watchdog Slams Secret Service Director Pick

Joseph Clancy
Susan Walsh—AP Acting Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, in 2014.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz says they should have picked someone from outside the agency.

A top Republican critic of former Secret Service director Julia Pierson is not pleased with the Obama Administration’s pick to be her successor.

House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Jason Chaffetz said Wednesday that the appointment of acting director Joseph Clancy contradicts the recommendation of an independent panel created by the Department of Homeland Security in the aftermath of the embarrassing White House fence-jumping incident in September. Clancy’s appointment over Sean Joyce, a former deputy director of the F.B.I, extends the agency’s 150-year history of being led by a Secret Service agent, according to the New York Times.

“Only a director from outside the Service, removed from organizational traditions and personal relationships, will be able to do the honest top-to-bottom reassessment this will require,” argued the report, which was released in mid-December.

Chaffetz said in a statement that it was “disappointing” the President “ignored” the panel’s recommendations.

“The panel made it crystal clear that only a director from outside the agency would meet the needs of the agency today—someone with a fresh perspective, free from allegiances and without ties to what has consistently been described as a ‘good old boys network,'” he said. “The good men and women of the Secret Service are screaming for a fresh start. At this moment in time, the Secret Service would best be served by a transformative and dynamic leader from outside the agency.”

Pierson, the first female Secret Service director, resigned on Oct. 1, a day after a poor performance before Chaffetz’s committee and revelations that an armed security contractor with an arrest record was improperly screened and allowed onto an elevator with the President. A last straw for Pierson was that she did not inform Obama of the security breach.

Chaffetz wished the best for Clancy even if he disagreed with the appointment. Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the Oversight committee, said he was also ready to work with the new director.

“Joe Clancy has taken strong action over the past several months to begin righting the ship at the Secret Service, he has been extremely responsive to Congress, and his decisive leadership has already resulted in major changes,” said Cummings. “I look forward to working with him closely over the next year to ensure that the Secret Service gets what it needs to fulfill its critical mission.”

TIME Congress

What Nancy Pelosi’s Visit to Havana Means

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi
Bill Clark—CQ Roll Call/Getty Images House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi holds her weekly news conference in the Capitol in Washington D.C. on Dec. 5, 2014.

Members of Congress have been traveling to Havana for a while, preparing the ground for the coming rapprochement between Cuba and the United States. But Nancy Pelosi’s arrival on the island Tuesday adds a certain weight to the process. Pelosi, the San Francisco Democrat who leads the House minority, has become the most senior congressional leader to visit Cuba, a nominal milestone in every sense of the word but one that nonetheless helps to sustain the momentum begun with the Dec. 17 joint announcements of Presidents Obama and Raul Castro.

And momentum matters on the Cuba question. Obama has moved with real dispatch, first with the surprise announcement that he intended to re-establish diplomatic ties with a state that has been regarded as an outlaw by previous administrations dating to 1961 and then by taking less than four weeks to publish new rules allowing U.S. citizens to travel to the island and send money there. But there’s a limit how much any president can do. The matrix of legislation that together are known as the Embargo can be undone only by Congress, a constitutional reality not lost on the Cuban officials working closing with the Obama administration to sustain the sense the countries stand on the cusp of a new era.

“The power in the United States is not the President,” a senior Cuban official informed me late last month, in the corridor of the Havana hotel and convention center where a U.S. Assistant Secretary of State and her Cuban counterpart had just concluded a day of talks on re-opening embassies. “Don’t be fooled,” the official said with a knowing look. “There’s what he’s allowed to do.”

Re-opening embassies is one thing a president is allowed to do, and the talks aimed at doing that had evidently gone well, not least because the Cubans themselves gave every indication of understanding that the real challenge was not about ambassadors but the congressional battle that lay ahead. U.S. policy on Cuba had been largely dominated by the Cuban exile community that fled the island after the 1959 revolution. And if Obama’s overture to Havana was based on a calculation that the exiles’ time has come and mostly gone, the lobby’s clout remains a formidable thing on Capitol Hill, where, for instance, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee is New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, the son of Cuban emigrants.

In meeting with government officials, Pelosi’s codel, or Congressional Delegation, will no doubt be quizzed on the prospects for rolling back the Embargo. The answer is partly evident in the presence of a Democratic with a reputation as partisan as Pelosi’s: Support for the outreach to Cuba, while not defined cleanly on party lines, skews Democrat. But part of the answer lay in list of non-official Cubans the five House Democrats meet with on their visit. One stop will be Cardinal Jaime Lucas Ortega y Alamino, the local leader of the Catholic Church whose leader, Pope Francis, played a crucial role in persuading the longtime enemies to come together, and afforded an ecclesiastical cover for a political change.

More importantly, the Americans will also meet with what Pelosi’s news release referred to as “members of civil society,” code language for political dissidents who cycle in and out of detention in Cuba, a one-party state that insists that criticism can occur only “inside the system.” Hence the inclusion of Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, co-chair of the congressional Human Rights Commission. Conspicuous demonstrations of support for these lonely dissenters were a key element of the State Department delegation, and will be for all U.S. officials — not only out of principle, but to show skeptics watching on the Hill that renewing ties to Havana does not meaning letting the Castros declare victory. And since the next round of talks is slated to take place in Washington next week, Pelosi’s visit also offers the opportunity to keep the focus on the island in question.

With reporting from Dolly Mascareñas in Mexico City.

TIME Congress

Judge’s Order Bolster Republicans in Immigration Fight

Obamas Attend National Prayer Breakfast
Dennis Brack—Pool/Getty Images President Barack Obama speaks during the National Prayer Breakfast on Feb. 5, 2015 in Washington, DC.

A federal judge’s order on immigration appears to have steeled some Capitol Hill Republicans’ resolve to fight President Obama over his plans to defer deportations for millions in the U.S. illegally.

The Obama administration had been set to begin implementing part of the November executive actions Wednesday, offering work permits and other documents to millions of undocumented immigrants, many of whom are parents of U.S. citizens or legal residents.

That plan is now on hold as the Obama administration appeals the judge’s order.

But the fight on Capitol Hill continues, with congressional Republicans hoping to use annual funding for the Department of Homeland Security to force the White House and Senate Democrats to capitulate.

Speaker John Boehner used the judge’s order to repeat his view that Obama overstepped his authority.

“The president said 22 times he did not have the authority to take the very action on immigration he eventually did, so it is no surprise that at least one court has agreed,” he said, in a statement echoed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. “We will continue to follow the case as it moves through the legal process. Hopefully, Senate Democrats who claim to oppose this executive overreach will now let the Senate begin debate on a bill to fund the Homeland Security department.”

Boehner’s comments were echoed by other Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who said Democrats were exhibiting the “height of irresponsibility” in blocking the funding bill.

Republicans have struggled for weeks to get any Senate Democrats on board with their strategy of using the Feb. 27 funding deadline to pressure the President into caving on his own executive actions. They’ve even lost a handful of Senate Republicans and Boehner—as of this weekend—is “certainly” prepared to let the agency run out of money. DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson believes that 30,000 government employees could face furloughs.

Meantime, the court fight will grind on. The White House plans to appeal the decision in the 5th Circuit, which could postpone the president’s actions by a month or two “at the very least,” according to Stephen Yale-Loehr, an immigration expert at Cornell University Law School who believes the president’s actions are lawful. He told TIME that it’s “unlikely” that “a lot” of people would be deported as the courts continue to hear the case.

“It’s always a chance,” he says. “If they’re stopped for a traffic violation and the local police turned them over to the federal immigration authorities they could be put into deportation proceedings. But even then they have to go before an immigration judge and a … hearing can take several months.”

TIME Congress

Boehner: Senate Democrats Are to Blame If Homeland Security Shuts Down

Republican Speaker of the House from Ohio John Boehner speaks at a press conference about President Obama's proposal seeking war authorization from congress to fight Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq in the Capitol in Washington on Feb. 11, 2015. Speaker Boehner also spoke about the congressional vote on the Keystone XL Pipeline.
Jim Lo Scalzo—EPA Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner speaks at a press conference about Obama's proposal seeking war authorization from congress to fight ISIS and the congressional vote on the Keystone XL Pipeline in the Capitol in Washington on Feb. 11, 2015.

"Senate Democrats are the ones putting us in this precarious position. It's up to Senate Democrats to get their act together," Boehner said.

House Speaker John Boehner said Senate Democrats would be to blame if Congress fails to pass a bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security before it runs out of money on Feb. 27.

In an interview on Fox News Sunday, Boehner said the House had “done its job” and passed a bill to fund the agency. That bill, however, also includes language that would roll back President Obama’s executive action on immigration, causing Senate Democrats to block it.

“The House has acted to fund the department and to stop the president’s overreach when it comes to immigration and his executive orders,” Boehner said Sunday. “Senate Democrats are the ones putting us in this precarious position. It’s up to Senate Democrats to get their act together.”

If a funding bill doesn’t pass both chambers, the agency will shut down, which would mean thousands of frontline workers, including border patrol agents, would have to report for duty without pay.

Fox News reports that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s office released a statement following Boehner’s interview saying Boehner “made it clear that he has no plan to avoid a government shutdown.”

[Fox News]

TIME

Rep. John Lewis: Selma Made Obama Presidency Possible

"I don't think as a group we had any idea that our marching feet would have such an impact 50 years later," Representative John Lewis said Sunday

Georgia Congressman John Lewis said President Obama likely wouldn’t have been elected President if it weren’t for the historic march in Selma, Ala., that he helped lead as a student organizer 50 years ago.

“If it hadn’t been for that march across Edmund Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday, there would be no Barack Obama as President of the United States of America,” Lewis said during an interview on CBS’s Face the Nation.

In his last election, President Obama received over 90% of the black vote. Some 50 years ago, Lewis was among the many civil rights leaders marching and advocating to make those votes possible.

On March 7, 1965, hundreds of nonviolent protesters marched across the bridge as a part of an ongoing effort to secure voting rights for black Americans. That day, though, Alabama police met the protesters with violent force. Many, including Lewis, suffered serious injury. “I don’t think as a group we had any idea that our marching feet would have such an impact 50 years later,” Lewis said Sunday.

[Huffington Post]

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