And thus begins the midterm panic of '14:
— The Associated Press (@AP) March 11, 2014
BREAKING: Republican David Jolly wins Fla. congressional special election in test race over health care.
This seat was previously held by a long-serving Republican, but Barack Obama carried it twice, the Republican nominee was far from flawless, and the Democratic nominee enjoyed a wide name ID advantage from her gubernatorial run. Many experts saw this race as Alex Sink's to lose. She ran on a "fix, don't repeal, Obamacare" platform. She lost. Break out the tea leaves:
Looks like Jolly's night. If Dems couldn't win an Obama CD with a solid candidate against a flawed R, expect a rough November.— Dave Wasserman (@Redistrict) March 11, 2014
It's way GOP held FL13 that is so troublesome for Dems. Flawed underfunded cand wins, propped up by outside money aimed at health care— Chuck Todd (@chucktodd) March 11, 2014
Yes, FL-13 will be over-interpreted like most specials, but tonite Rs have to feel pretty good about picking UP seats in Nov.— Larry Sabato (@LarrySabato) March 12, 2014
Tonight, it’s the Democrats with all the expectations to meet. That’s because they have more questions to answer this year, about their ability to message around Obamacare and Social Security, and make the case against Republicans in a district with divided tendencies. Democrats won’t have candidates as seasoned or well-funded as Alex Sink everywhere. And they know privately at least that they’re looking at a dismal 2014 if they can’t win districts like this one.
Progress Texas, a liberal group in Texas that supports Democratic candidates, released what appears to be a standard attack ad against Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott--with one major exception. Abbott is portrayed in the ad standing up holding a piggy bank. Normally, this wouldn't be a big deal and hardly would merit an article, but Abbott was paralyzed from the waist down in 1984 and uses a wheelchair.
He can't stand up.
Note how Wendy Davis, the actual Democratic candidate for governor in Texas, isn't portrayed in the ad, but instead a morose Hispanic woman is shown counter to Abbott. This could be because Davis tanked amongst Hispanics in South Texas.
While modern medicine hasn't been able to cure spinal cord injuries just yet, apparently leftist Texans armed with Photoshop have figured it out.
The cumulative numbers are in: since Healthcare.gov launched on October 1, 2013, 4.2 million Americans have signed up for private health insurance, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. That being said, the White House was more than willing to help share the "happy" news:
Will the White House meet or exceed their self-imposed sign-up goal? We don’t know:
CMS spox won't say whether they expect to meet downwardly revised goal of 6 million enrollments.— Philip Klein (@philipaklein) March 11, 2014
What we do know, however, is that the March 31 open enrollment deadline cannot legally be extended. Of course, constitutional constraints have never stopped the president from making on-the-fly changes to his health care law in the past. So we'll just wait and see what happens if/when the administration comes up short:
HHS official just said "we don't have statutory authority" to extend the open enrollment period.— John McCormack (@McCormackJohn) March 11, 2014
Look for Guy’s analysis later this evening. In short, these figures are hardly encouraging, and show that enrollment sign-up trends are indeed flat-lining, despite the White House’s carefully crafted and predictable spin. Stay tuned.
Americans are anything but ecstatic about the work being done on Capitol Hill. Congress’s overall job approval rating is at only 15 percent, the lowest in March of any midterm year, according to Gallup.
In fact, 2014 is the only example in modern times of a midterm election in which there is a divided Congress and a Democratic president. There have been three midterm elections in which a divided Congress faced the voters under a Republican president: 1982 and 1986 with Ronald Reagan, and 2002 with George W. Bush.
The 1986 midterms may seem most similar to this year's elections -- the Republicans, under a second-term Reagan, held a small majority in the Senate and many of the vulnerable Senate Republicans had been elected in Reagan's 1980 landslide presidential victory. Reagan was far more popular than Obama at this point in his presidency; his approval rating in March 1986 was in the 60s, compared with Obama's ratings in the mid-40s. Yet despite Reagan's robust approval rating, his party suffered a net loss of eight seats and control of the chamber, which can't be reassuring for Democrats today.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) recently wrote he is very concerned about losing control of the Senate. “The Koch brothers are buying our elections,” he claimed, “Without your support, they’ll succeed in kicking Democrats out of the Senate majority this fall.”
The GOP only needs a net gain of six seats to claim majority control. They also have a pretty good chance of accomplishing it, according to Reuters:
Democrats have faced an uphill battle in Senate races from the start of the political cycle. Of the 35 Senate seats up for election, 21 are held by Democrats and 14 by Republicans, so Democrats have more seats to defend.
Beyond that, those Democrats include Mark Begich of Alaska, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Kay Hagan in North Carolina, who represent conservative states where Obama and Obamacare are particularly unpopular.
The top challengers to all four have raised significant campaign cash, and outside advocacy groups such as Americans for Prosperity, funded by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, already have spent millions of dollars on ads attacking the senators for backing Obamacare.
With control of the Senate teetering, it is no wonder Reid is desperate to patch the bruises Obamacare has brought on the Democratic party. The fact remains that despite Obamacare's overwhelming promotion to everyone from hipsters and frat bros to geeks and mothers, 57 percent of Americans still oppose it. Is it really so hard to sell a good product? No wonder Reid is starting to sweat.
One thing is certain: if Republicans can take over the bicameral legislature this fall, Obama will find his bills and nominations face a far more critical crowd.
More than half of Harry Reid's Senate Democratic caucus participated in a multi-hour "talk-a-thon," which began last evening and wrapped up earlier this morning. The ostensible purpose of the speech parade was to draw attention to what speakers described as the pressing issue of climate change. It was an odd spectacle. Not only were Democrats "demanding action" from a legislative body that they control, they did so while deliberately declining to specify what action they were demanding. Might I suggest the following inspirational chant?
What do we want?
Non-specific action from ourselves!
When do we want it?
The Washington Post pursued the elusive point of the whole spectacle, acknowledging that solutions were off the table:
At least 28 Democrats plan to use floor time to raise their concerns on the lack of attention being paid to climate change -- although there is no single bill or even set of bills for which they will be advocating. Tonight's program "isn’t about a particular bill," said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), who helped organize the talkathon. "This is about trying to raise the profile and being to gain some momentum on this issue. Then I think we’re in a position to ask corporate America and other groups and organizations to get more engaged and open the kind of space it will take to pass a bill. But the first thing we have to show is that we’re engaged ourselves."
In an era of ballooning debt, anemic economic growth, rampant healthcare disruptions and chronically high unemployment, global warming is nowhere near the top of most Americans' priority list. In fact, fewer than half of the population views the phenomenon as both real and primarily caused by humans, according to the most recent NYT/CBS News poll. When Rand Paul and Ted Cruz stood and spoke for hours on end, they were advocating explicit steps on resonant issues. Paul wanted a full explanation of the federal government's power to use drone strikes to kill American citizens. Cruz was angling to defund a law that is actively hurting millions of people. So why would Senate Democrats risk looking out of touch by hyping a low priority issue without even issuing concrete policy solutions for the public to evaluate? The Post piece finally landed on the actual motivating factor behind Team Reid's elaborate performance. Ka-ching:
Environmental groups spent about $20 million on ads and other activities to help Democrats in 2012 and gave about $742,000 directly to candidates during the cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics...Then there's the billionaire businessman Thomas Steyer. He's quickly emerged as a new and much-needed source of campaign money for Democrats eager to find ways to match the rise of conservative donors who are using new super PACs to spend millions of dollars attacking congressional Democrats on the airwaves...Steyer hosted a recent fundraiser at his San Francisco home that netted the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee $400,000 and where Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and the six other Democratic senators in attendance openly discussed plans for tonight's talkathon, according to reports. Reid also has vowed to allow his colleagues to discuss the issue during their weekly lunches and on the Senate floor. This year, Steyer plans to go much farther by using his advocacy group, NextGen Political Action, to spend about $100 million to help Democratic congressional candidates.
Well, well, well. Harry Reid's been ranting about the perils of allowing "un-American" billionaires to "buy" elections lately, disgracefully and inaccurately sullying cancer patients in the process. All the while, his party -- including Reid in particular -- have been cheerfully raking in mega dollars from loaded donors of their own. Evidently, politically-active billionaires can avoid being slandered on the Senate floor simply by agreeing with Harry Reid. It's a neat trick, that. One such enlightened fellow is Tom Steyer, who's committed $100 million to help beat Republicans this fall, and whose pet passion is environmentalism. In a remarkable stroke of good fortune, Reid and friends just happened to cook up this talk-a-thon at a posh fundraiser held at Steyer's San Francisco home. Given his nine-figure pledge, the NRSC notes that Steyer effectively rented the Senate floor for approximately $6 million per hour last night. The irony, of course, is that the ruinous policies Steyer would like to see enacted are too politically unpalatable to even mention in an election year. So instead of working to advance a bill that (a) would not make any measurable impact on the planet's climate, but (b) would have a decidedly measurable impact on middle class Americans' wallets, Steyer bought himself a dog and pony show. Not to fear, liberals, strings were almost certainly attached. If Democrats keep their majority thanks in large part to this man's largesse, there will be tangible legislation and votes to follow -- scheduled as far away from an election as possible. And in case you're curious: Yes, vulnerable Democrats were in fact given a hall pass on last night's posture-fest:
Mary Landrieu, the new chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, was noticeably absent from the demonstration. The vulnerable Democrat faces re-election this fall in Louisiana, a state with large swaths of conservative voters.
Republicans are highlighting Landrieu's shell game in a new "waiting"-themed web ad:
Richard Branson, the CEO of Virgin, recently said that climate change deniers should “get out of our way.” The comment comes after Apple CEO Tim Cook said earlier this month that global warming skeptics should not buy shares in his firm. But the Daily Caller pointed out that Branson’s statement is, well, just a bit hypocritical to say the least.
Virgin CEO Richard Branson may be championing green business investments but his airline empire has emitted more than 7.1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere over the years.
Branson recently took to his blog to decry global warming denialism, saying that those who are skeptical of mankind’s effect on the planet should “get out of our way.” But Branson’s own airline companies have emitted millions of metric tons of carbon into the atmosphere.
I think it’s a good time to revisit this video of filmmaker and journalist Phelim McAleer pointing out the hypocrisy of environmentalists at the UN Climate Change Conference in 2009.
When Special Agent Jay Dobyns put his life on the line to work undercover in the Hell's Angels gang for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, he expected his supervisors would have his back once his job was done. They didn't. Instead, ATF supervisors ignored death threats and tried to frame Dobyns in an effort cover-up their own corruption.
In 2008, after years of death threats towards Dobyns and his family, including a threat to gang rape his wife and daughter on video tape, Dobyns' home was burned to the ground in Tucson, Arizona. His wife and two children were sleeping inside and he was out of town when the incident occured. Luckily, they survived. Instead of sending out an investigative team to look into the arson, Bill Newell, ATF Agent in Charge of the Phoenix Field Division at the time, called the incident "minor scorching" and supervisors, with the support of the Department of Justice, proceeded in attempts to frame Dobyns by accusing him of starting the fire. You can read about the details of the situation here.
A DOJ Inspector General report concluded that management within the ATF Phoenix office, despite having the necessary resources, did not adequately address threats made against Dobyns and found "absence of any corrective measures proposed to address the failure to conduct timely and thorough investigations into the death threats made against Dobyns."
In addition, a U.S. Office of Special Counsel report concluded, "I note with concern the absence of any corrective measures proposed to address the failure to conduct timely and thorough investigations into the death threats made against Special Agent Dobyns. ATF does not appear to have held anyone accountable in this regard. Fully addressing the problems and failures identified in this care requires more than amending ATF policies and procedures. It requires that threats against ATF agents be taken seriously and pursued aggressively and that ATF officials at all level cooperate to ensure the timely and comprehensive investigation of threats leveled against its own agents."
Now, NRA News' Ginny Simone is out with a new report on the latest details of Dobyns' case and his lawsuit against the government for failing to address serious threats and for the retaliation against him. Closing arguments were made in Tucson in February and a ruling from U.S. Court of Claims Judge Francis Allegra is pending. During closing statements, Allegra described government attorneys as answering his questions with "less than candor." Further, Allegra described ATF's treatment of Dobyns as "wretched," "purposeful" and "simply spiteful."
"They were corrupt, they were dirty, they were criminals...I never believed that my legacy would be someone that was fighting against my government for justice."
The same supervisors who targeted Dobyns were in charge of Operation Fast and Furious in Arizona. Dobyns retired as a Special Agent in January after 27 years in the Bureau and has been outspoken for a decade about rampant corruption and mismanagement inside ATF and the Department of Justice. He has certainly paid the price for doing so.
This post has been updated.
The specific survey he’s referring to was conducted by Public Policy Polling (PPP) several weeks ago, and of course, the results were worrisome for an incumbent senator contemplating running for re-election. In fairness to the Maverick, though, PPP is a Democratic-leaning polling firm.
However, listening to anecdotal evidence is hardly the best way to accurately measure public opinion. Reviewing empirical data is:
McCain took issue with PPP’s findings yesterday on the Fox Business Channel, of course. You see, he’s been traveling around Arizona interacting with his many adoring constituents. Thus, he knows they still “like” him, or something. The Hill caught the transcript:
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) called a poll that finds he has a 30 percent job approval in Arizona “bogus” on Monday.
“There is a bogus poll out there,” McCain said on Fox Business’ “Cavuto.” “I can sense the people of my state. When I travel around, which I do constantly, they like me, and I am very grateful.”
McCain can contest the results of this poll all he wants. And it's possible the survey is inaccurate. But it’s important to remember that PPP predicted, with remarkable accuracy, the results of the 2012 election at both the presidential and state levels (via Politico):
In every swing state, its final presidential polls were validated Tuesday night as PPP reported the correct winner in all 9 battlegrounds and in the 3 other states (Michigan, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania) that the Romney campaign feinted toward. …
The story in the Senate was much the same for PPP. It correctly picked every winner and, in most cases, slightly understated Democratic support and overstated GOP support.
All this is to say that PPP’s findings are probably correct. In fact, PPP’s figures might actually deliver encouraging news to Team McCain, if you can believe it. For instance, an in-state, Rocky Mountain poll conducted about a year ago showed that the senior senator from Arizona was boasting his lowest approval rating in more than two decades (26 percent), while at the same time, only 21 percent of respondents said he deserved to be re-elected. Ouch. As the president of PPP put it last week in their firm’s findings, “The low opinion both Republicans and Democrats have of John McCain now means he could be vulnerable in both the primary and the general election next time around.”
That's something no incumbent senator ever wants to hear. But living in denial, I suspect, is no way to win re-election, either.
The improvement is "slight," they concede, but who's excited for an Obamacare rebound? Not the American people, it turns out, despite CNN's hopeful spin:
According to the poll, 39% of Americans say they support the health care law, up from 35% in December, a record low in CNN polling. The uptick of four percentage points is within the survey’s sampling error. Fifty-seven percent of those questioned say they oppose the measure, down five points from December.
Obamacare is still underwater by nearly 20 points -- with support falling short of 40 percent, and opposition approaching six in ten Americans. The improvement heralded in CNN's headline are within the survey's margin of error. The poll also shows that Obamacare's only gains come among "upscale" consumers. The network's write-up is quick to note that some in the opposition group say they don't believe the law goes far enough. The suggestion is that some liberal consensus on healthcare exists, despite Obamacare's unpopularity. Ed Morrissey isn't impressed: "Yes, there have been critics from the Left who wanted a single-payer system instead of Obamacare, but they have been there all along. The point is that the law has little public support, while opposition to it is the broad consensus." How broad is that consensus? The most recent Gallup poll legs the law's public support at (40/55) and Fox News' latest has it at (36/57). Those numbers....look familiar. Indeed, Obamacare's net disapproval has ranged from roughly (-12) to (-25) for years. Opposition to this law is strong and stable. The NYT/CBS News poll takes a different tack, asking whether Americans believe the law should be fully repealed, needs to be revised, or is working as-is. Only six percent chose the latter option. A sizable contingent favors repeal (42 percent), and 50 percent wants changes. Liberals greeted that data point as proof that Obamacare isn't really that unpopular after all. But as I wrote at the time, this argument fails upon slightly closer scrutiny. One of the overwhelmingly supported changes to the law is axing or postponing the individual mandate tax, which is the centerpiece of the entire law. I summarized the law's myriad failures at Hot Air yesterday:
A February study from the center-left Brookings Institution determined that Obamacare would reduce incomes among the top 80 percent of American wage earners. Workers at the very bottom stand to benefit, but everyone else will take a hit — with lower-middle class Americans facing the steepest reductions in take-home pay. As for the previously uninsured, it’s tough to overstate how devastating last week’s Washington Post bombshell was. Nine out of ten eligible uninsured Americans haven’t selected plans under Obamacare, with the top reason cited being lack of affordability. Of those few whohave “signed up,” only about half have paid, and are therefore covered. So we’re looking at roughly five percent of the previously uninsured population that has decided to participate in a $2 trillion law that was ostensibly foisted upon the rest of the public for their benefit. Therefore, the vast, vast majority of people touted in the White House’s (still significantly inflated) Obamacare “enrollment” figures already had coverage prior to the law’s passage. Those aren’t “new” enrollees. They’re people who were uprooted from their previous arrangement because of this law. More than six million Americans have received cancellation notices due to Obamacare…so far.
Darryl Issa's committee has released a report on Lois Lerner's involvement in the IRS targeting of conservative 501(c)(4) organizations -- and to no one's surprise (at least for those who have been paying attention -- there is plenty of evidence that she was indeed involved in the scandal.
The report substantiates several damning conclusions:
(1) Lois Lerner was well aware of Senate Democrats' and some administration officials' wishes that the IRS crack down on applications from some tax-exempt organizations engaging in political activity (p. 23). She was concerned lest the IRS's work appear to be "per se political". (p. 9)
(2) Lerner created a lengthier approval process for certain (conservative) groups without informing them that they had been singled out (using inappropriate criteria like " criteria, which were used to including the phrases “Tea Party,” “Patriots,” or “9/12 Project” or“[s]tatements in the case file [that] criticize how the country is being run.” (pp 25-26). She later denied having done so when asked by Congressmen. (p. 5)
(3) "The Chief Counsel’s office also directed Lerner’s staff to request additional information from Tea Party applicants, including information about political activities leading up to the 2010 election. In fact, it appears the IRS never resolved the test applications." (p 30). Note that the Chief Counsel's office was run by William Wilkins -- the president's man at the IRS.
(4) Lerner was complicit in the effort to regulate 501(c)(4) groups "off plan" -- i.e., without any public notice. (p 31)
(5) After Steven Miller testified on Capitol Hill about charitable groups, Lerner expressed relief that the hearing turned out to be "less interesting than it might have." (p. 37)
(6) Lerner and her colleagues unnecessarily delayed the Inspector General's audit of the disparate treatment of different groups. (p. 39-40).
(7) Lerner used a private email to conduct official business, perhaps to thwart congressional oversight efforts (p. 46-47). Of course, she wouldn't be the first in this administration.
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