Having conspicuously avoided the limelight since leaving office in 2009, President George W. Bush stepped back into the public eye yesterday to dedicate his presidential library in Dallas. Stick with this clip to the end, where Bush gets choked up talking about his love of country:
I joined him despite my frustration because the need was too great for finger-pointing and blame-making. He flew to New Orleans and addressed the nation: “Tonight I also offer this pledge to the American people: Throughout the area hit by the hurricane, we will do what it takes. We will stay as long as it takes to help citizens rebuild their communities and their lives.” George W. Bush was good as his word. He visited the Gulf states 17 times; went 13 times to New Orleans. Laura Bush made 24 trips. Bush saw that $126 billion in aid was sent to the Gulf’s residents, as some members of his own party in Congress balked. Bush put a special emphasis on rebuilding schools and universities. He didn’t forget African-Americans: Bush provided $400 million to the historically black colleges, now integrated, that remain a pride, and magnet for African-American students. Laura Bush, a librarian, saw to it that thousands of books ruined by the floods were replaced. To this day, there are many local libraries with tributes devoted to her efforts. It was a team effort. I’m glad to report the commission I served on went out-of-business in 2010. I’m also grateful and proud to report that President Bush was one of the leaders, and a very important member, of that team. Our recovery can be credited to the civility and tireless efforts of President Bush and other Americans, who united and worked together to help rebuild the Gulf and the place of my birth, New Orleans.
As Dan noted earlier in the week, Bush's approval rating has quietly ticked northward for years; he's now pulled even with President Obama in the high-forties. I'll leave you with a post from former Bush adviser Keith Hennessey entitled, "George W. Bush is smarter than you."
The White House has endorsed a plan to eliminate FAA spending cuts that have cause air travel delays across the country. The agency has been forced to furlough air traffic controllers as part of the automatic budget cuts that kicked in this spring. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid wants to end the cuts by claiming savings from the draw down of war spending in Iraq and Afghanistan. Republicans reject his proposal calling it an accounting gimmick.
Of course it's an accounting gimmick. The point is that Democrats are desperate to extricate themselves from this mess, which they orchestrated in a bone-headed attempt to rile public anger against any spending cuts. Good luck with this, guys. Instead of hurting Republicans -- which was the entire point -- this entirely manufactured crisis has infuriated travelers, who inconveniently (a) seem to recall that the sequester was proposed and signed by Obama, and (b) aren't buying the idea that a tiny reduction in the rate of spending increase is enough to justify disruptive furloughs. They're right on both counts, and even some mainstream media outlets have taken the administration to the woodshed. Here's the Chicago Tribune, Obama's hometown paper that endorsed him twice, upbraiding the president. Zero words minced:
Hours before the federal spending sequester began on March 1, when President Barack Obama predicted that "People are going to be hurt," he did not add, Trust me, I'll make sure of it. But he might as well have, as this week's furloughs of air traffic controllers make obvious. The furloughs reflect panic: Having exaggerated their early predictions that the sequester's small reduction in spending growth would seriously affect Americans, many Democrats are hell-bent to pre-empt those Americans from drawing two logical conclusions: If one level of cuts is this painless, then maybe we should make ... more cuts to expenditures. And while we're at it, maybe we should ignore the politicians who told us that if Washington lowered the spending growth curve ... the Earth will fly into the sun....
So, what could the administration do to make a reduction of barely 1 percent of actual federal outlays — less than $45 billion of this year's roughly $3.8 trillion — turn citizens against Republicans who oppose more tax increases? Easy, or so the president's men and women figured: Cue the air controller furloughs! Let's stall some flights on the tarmac! Sure enough, travel delays have followed. We're less certain, though, that this hostage-taking will cut the way the White House expects: The scheme relies on citizens being — how to put this delicately? — stupid enough to think that the Federal Aviation Administration can't find a more flier-friendly way to save $600 million.
The Trib's editors also cite polling showing that the public is less and less worried about the sequester cuts by the day, which likely sparked panic inside the White House: We can't allow spending cuts to go unnoticed. People might start getting the wrong idea. It's time to deliberately inflict totally avoidable pain on the populace -- it's for their own good, really. Other papers are also scolding Democrats for their cynicism, including the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal:
In case there's any doubt about the President's ability to prioritize, at least two GOP Senators, Jerry Moran and Roy Blunt, have written bills to clarify Mr. Obama's authority to make sensible spending decisions. He's not interested, and Senate Democrats have blocked such reforms. Making smart choices about federal sending would spoil the fun of creating flight delays and then blaming Republicans. So this week the FAA has managed to turn the first stages of a 5% budget cut into hours of delays at the nation's airports. The furloughs are landing on air-traffic controllers as much as they are on less vital FAA jobs. Officials at the Department of Transportation, the FAA's parent bureaucracy, say it would be bad for morale to impose heavier furloughs on the employees who don't direct airplanes.
I'll leave you with two charts that put the lie to this entire charade. The first comes via Phil Kerpen:
That's right, the FAA's post-sequester budget is actually higher than the funding it would have received under Obama's own budget. This smacks of Obama's vaccination "cuts" ploy. And finally, check out the graph Larry Kudlow used on his program the other night (around the 1:05 mark). The FAA's operational budget has soared over the last four years, even as flight traffic has declined:
UPDATE - Too perfect: A pre-sequester FAA report demonstrated that air traffic controllers were operating at 22 percent over capacity. Even FAA employees are aware that the pain is political and intentional: "I am disgusted with everything that I see since the sequester took place," another FAA employee wrote. "Whether in HQ or at the field level it is clear that our management has no intention of managing anything. The only effort that I see is geared towards generating fear and demonstrating failure."
UPDATE II (Katie) - The House has passed legislation halting furloughs of FAA controllers.
A bill that would end the Federal Aviation Administration’s furlough on air traffic controllers is now on its way to President Obama to sign.
On Friday, the House passed the measure 361-41.
On Thursday night, the Senate passed the legislation after most lawmakers had left the Capitol for a weeklong vacation.
The Tsarnaev's were captured and killed before they had the chance to inflict more death and destruction on innocents, but wreaking havoc at the Boston Marathon didn't quite quench the Chechen brothers' thirst for American blood:
The surviving Boston Marathon bombing suspect has told investigators that he and his brother discussed detonating the rest of their explosives in Times Square, senior law enforcement officials told NBC News on Thursday. The surviving suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, initially told investigators that they planned to go to New York to party after the Boston attack, one source said. The New York police commissioner also gave this account Wednesday. Under subsequent questioning, the officials said, Tsarnaev said that the brothers had discussed a follow-up attack on Times Square.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, suspected of bombing the Boston Marathon with his older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was questioned for 16 hours by authorities before being read his Miranda rights, the AP reports today. Tsarnaev, a 19-year-old college student, confessed his role in the crime during the questioning in his hospital room, but that confession may not be admissible in court. Once he was advised of his right to seek counsel and remain silent by a representative from the U.S. attorney's office, the suspect stopped talking. Police are allowed to question suspects without first Mirandizing them, but then their statements are not admissible in court. If police ask questions that seek to uncover future threats to the public, something called the "public safety exception" provides a loophole to this rule. So in Tsarnaev's case, if they had asked him if he knew of any planned attacks, or whether there were any bombs planted around Boston, his answers would theoretically be OK to use in a case against him. Authorities questioned both the Christmas Day "underwear bomber" Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab—for 50 minutes—and the attempted Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad without first reading them their Miranda rights using the public safety exception.
Sixteen hours is better than 50 minutes, but Abdulmutallab was a foreign national. He should have been a clear-cut enemy combatant, entitled to few constitutional rights. That he was Mirandized at all, let alone so quickly, remains an outrage. Mr. Tsarnaev's case is more sensitive because the perpetrator (technically still a "suspect") is a US citizen. Why the DOJ chose to Mirandize him mid-interrogation, though, is a mystery -- and the FBI is said to be furious:
The FBI filed a federal criminal complaint against the 19-year-old on Sunday, and federal District Court Judge Marianne Bowler arrived at the hospital where he is being treated to preside over his initial hearing Monday, when she read him his Miranda rights. [FBI officials told The Associated Press Wednesday that Tsarnaev acknowledged to investigators his role in the attacks before he was advised of his constitutional rights. He reportedly said he was only recently recruited by his brother to be part of the attack.] But Fox News' sources say there was confusion about Bowler's timing, with some voicing concerns that investigators were not given enough time to question Dzhokhar under the "public safety exception" invoked by the Justice Department. Two officials with knowledge of the FBI briefing on Capitol Hill said the FBI was against stopping the investigators' questioning and was stunned that the judge, Justice Department prosecutors and public defenders showed up, feeling valuable intelligence may have been sacrificed as a result. The FBI had been questioning Tsarnaev for 16 hours before the judge called a start to the court proceeding, officials familiar with the Capitol Hill briefing told Fox News. Moreover, the FBI informed lawmakers that the suspect had been providing valuable intelligence, but stopped talking once the magistrate judge read him his rights.
Terrific. I'll leave you with a round-up of additional developments from the investigation:
(1) The Tsarnaev's mother is still in major denial, even though her surviving son has confessed to his role in the bombings. Hold the tears; she may have known about her deceased son's radicalism for years.
(2) How many red flags did US authorities need? The Tsarnaev's Boston mosque has ties to radicals, Russian officials warned their American counterparts "repeatedly" about Tamerlan -- who was placed on a CIA watch list, DHS knew Tamelan was visiting Chechnya last year, and the Tsarnaev's online trail was rife with jihadist propaganda.
(3) The Tsarnaev brothers were motivated by opposition to American foreign policy and allegedly picked up the craft bomb-making via Al-Qaeda's "magazine," Inspire.
(4) On the night of their huge shootout with police, the terrorists car-jacked a vehicle at gunpoint. It had a "Coexist" bumper sticker on it. Really.
(5) Was Mrs. Tamerlan Tsarnaev involved in the plot? Investigators would like to know. It now appears that the bombs themselves were more sophisticated than initially thought, perhaps suggesting fairly extensive training.
(6) Quote of the month, regarding the late Tamerlan Tsarnaev: "[H]e was angry that the world pictures Islam as a violent religion." Derp.
The Obama administration drew a "red line" in the sand months ago with the Assad regime in Damascus: If they were to use WMD's during their nation's civil war, the United States would intervene militarily. The president himself said the deployment of such weapons would represent a "game-changer." The British, French, and Israelis have all concluded that chemical weapons have been deployed, and now top US officials are co-signing that assessment. The Secretary of State:
WASHINGTON (AP) —Secretary of State John Kerry says Syrian regime launched 2 chemical attacks.— Josh Lederman (@joshledermanAP) April 25, 2013
And the Secretary of Defense:
U.S. intelligence has concluded "with some degree of varying confidence," that the Syrian government has used sarin gas as a weapon in its 2-year-old civil war, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Thursday. Hagel, speaking to reporters in Abu Dhabi, said the White House has informed two senators by letter that, within the past day, "our intelligence community does assess, with varying degrees of confidence, that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria, specifically, the chemical agent sarin." "It violates every convention of warfare," Hagel said.
So, now what? Assad has crossed the White House's red line. Will that reality prompt US military action in Syria? What constitutes "action"? Sec. Kerry has been nudging NATO to form a contingency plan, so boots on the ground could be a real possibility. This strikes me as a lose-lose scenario. If the United States doesn't respond with measures beyond additional strong words and a symbolic slap on the wrist, Obama will send a very dangerous signal to other rogue regimes -- in Tehran and Pyongyang, or instance. Once any President of the United States has established a clear line that cannot be crossed, he must follow-through on his threats if they're not heeded. American credibility is at stake; it's already been bruised in Syria. How long has it been since our Secretary of State pronounced that Assad "must go"? Answer: More than one full year. But if we do intervene, who's to say that we'd be helping the right side? Assad is an evil despot who's been slaughtering his own people for months in a merciless attempt to retain power. The death toll is estimated to be in the tens of thousands. On the other hand, the rebels -- whom we've formally recognized are aided -- are at least partially comprised of hardcore, pro-Al Qaeda Islamists. We've already helped swapp one stable Middle Eastern despot for an (elected) aggressively Islamist regime in Cairo. Similar worries abound in Tripoli. Are we going to assist a truly terrible group of rebels topple a truly terrible dictator in Damascus? To what end? Very unpleasant choices all around, it seems.
UPDATE - Time compiles six instances of the White House touting its "red line" on Syrian chemical weapons.
In an exclusive interview with Townhall, Sen. Marco Rubio repeatedly emphasizes that the "Gang of Eight" framework on comprehensive immigration reform is not a "take it or leave it" proposition. He strongly encourages fellow conservatives to help improve and strengthen the bill as the legislative process advances. Below is the audio and transcript of the full exchange, which will air on my radio program this weekend. Rubio addresses various provisions within the legislation, as well as some conservatives' objections -- general and specific -- to the framework:
BENSON: Putting my cards on the table, I am in favor of immigration reform. I think that the current status quo is unworkable. It's broken. It's dysfunctional. And at almost every level, it's unfair. It's unfair to citizens, it's unfair to people who worked really hard to get here legally, and at times, it's also unfair to people who came here illegally. It needs to be changed, and I entirely agree with Senator Rubio's contention that the status quo, staying as we are, amounts to a de facto amnesty for millions of people. It's a mess. He makes that point; it's valid. Let me also say this: I'm a huge fan of Marco Rubio. Ever since I saw him give his farewell speech on the floor of the House in Florida, when he was going to run for Senate against very long odds -- and ended up beating Charlie Crist, of course, and became the US Senator -- I was smitten politically when I saw that speech. He's a natural, he's hugely talented, he's likeable, he's conservative. I admire him, I respect him, I trust him. All that being said, in spite of my open-mindedness, if not appetite, for reform -- and my positive feelings toward Senator Rubio -- I have some real, serious, substantive issues with what I've seen so far coming out of the 'Gang of Eight.' As I've looked at the bill. As I've read analysis of it. As I've peered under the hood...and so without further ado, we're delighted to be joined by Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. Welcome, Senator.
RUBIO: Thank you for having me
BENSON: Let's dive right into the questions. As a conservative, Senator, I guess a big picture question I have is, we as conservatives really have a lot of skepticism about the federal government. There's a Pew poll that came out this week; confidence in the federal government is at an all-time low across all demographics, especially among Republicans. And there's good reason for this. Be it Obamacare, or the "stimulus," the government has shown an inability, an incompetence, at doing big things. So why should we trust the federal government to get this right, finally, after decades of missing the mark?
RUBIO: Well first of all, thanks, that's a great question, and that's exactly why I've gotten involved in it. The only way that I know to make the executive branch execute a law is to pass a law that forces them to do it. So for example, one of the things we've known for a long time is that the magnet that draws illegal immigrants to the United States is employment. And this law mandates a universal E-Verify system. It is not an option, it is a mandate. They must do it. We know that 40 percent of the people that are illegally in this country entered legally and overstayed their visas. This law mandates the creation of an entry and exit system so that we can track everyone, not just when they come in, but when they leave. It also mandates spending over five-and-a-half billion dollars on border security, including a billion-and-a-half on new fencing. Double fencing. Not chicken wire, I mean real stuff. So these are mandated things that will have to happen. And in addition to that, it fundamentally changes the legal immigration system, away from this kind of family-based system that's based totally on whether you know someone who lives here or not, to a system that's based on whether you have the talents and the skills to contribute to our economy. The alternative to doing that, I think -- unfortunately, given the political make-up of the country -- is to leave things the way they are and to leave them in place. And the way they're in place right now is an administration that is never going to do E-Verify, that is never going to secure the border, and is never going to do any of these things that we're talking about doing...
BENSON: Okay, well, speaking of that administration, Janet Napolitano is DHS Secretary. A lot of the law here, a lot of the triggers and enforcement is ceded to the Department of Homeland Security. At least up front. Napolitano, just last month, said that the border's already secure. So, I mean, why should we entrust this DHS and this secretary in particular to do a job that she thinks is already done?
RUBIO: Well first of all, we don't, because she'll only be Secretary under the best case scenario for another three years. This law doesn't even get to the first trigger point until year five. Let me say, E-Verify isn't a discretionary thing. It must be done. Entry/Exit in this bill is not discretionary, it must be done. The only thing that they get a chance to do is this border stuff. They have to come up with a plan to secure the border, and a plan for the fencing. And in five years -- that means two years after she's long gone -- if they are not apprehending 90 percent of the people crossing the border, then an additional $2 billion will be spent on border security. This is long after they've gone away. And so, listen, there are always going to be consequences for having the wrong people in government, but the good news is, the wrong people that are there now will not be there forever. And this bill doesn't even begin to award green cards -- and not even award green cards, but allow people to apply for green cards -- until year eleven. Until the beginning of year eleven, long after they're gone.
BENSON: Right. So, the beginning of that process, to provisional legal status requires sort of a two-pronged trigger, as you call it, involving DHS creating these two plans. For border security and the fence. I just struggle to look at that as a legitimate, meaningful trigger because putting stuff on paper -- unless it's the Democrats and a budget -- is something that people can do in Washington pretty easily. How is that a meaningful trigger?
RUBIO: Well, I would just say to you that if there's a way to improve it, we should do it. And my challenge to my colleagues on the Judiciary Committee and the conservatives involved in this debate is to offer a better way. Let's build on what we've offered. I've never said that our bill was a take-it-or-leave-it offer, I've said it's a starting point. If there is a better way, I'm open to it. I encourage it. And I've talked about that and continue to say it. I can tell you that the only way we're ever going to force this to happen is to pass a law that forces it to happen. And so if there's a better way to make that happen, I want to do it. And I encourage, I'm constantly encouraging and talking to my colleagues about ways to do it. I'm actively engaged and meeting with each of my Senate colleagues in the Republican Party here on a way to improve our ideas, and if we can do that, I think we should do that.
BENSON: Senator, the commission. If DHS fails, if the triggers or the standards aren't met, there's a commission that gets put in place. That's like the biggest punch-line in the book, in terms of Washington putting together a commission -- and nothing really ever comes of it. What enforcement mechanism is there? Why is this commission suddenly going to work?
RUBIO: Well first of all, the commission exists at the front end as an advisory group, and it will comment on the stuff that DHS is already doing. Where the commission comes into vigor is if after five years, after they've done these two plans that you outlined at the beginning -- the border plan, the fence plan -- if after the five years, we are not apprehending 90 percent of the people crossing the border, then the commission is given $2 billion to put in place an additional plan to try to reach that goal. The commission is made up of appointees here in Congress, but it also has the four border state governors. And these are not wilting willows. These are, you know, significant public figures who are directly impacted from the border. The governors of Texas, Arizona, California and New Mexico, and they're going to have their imprint on this as well. So what the commission does is it creates an additional plan on the border and spends an additional $2 billion to get the border secure. But again, as I repeat to people, if someone has a better way to do this, I want them to offer it. I'm open to that. I'll be supportive of that. As I've always said about the bill, it's a starting point. It's not a take-it-or-leave-it proposition. I think we all share the goal of securing the border, and I hope that through this process we can come up with a better way to do it.
BENSON: Alright Senator, last question. I know you've got to run. These are just sort of technical questions. Part of it is, there's a cut-off. People who've gotten into the country illegally after December 31, 2011 are not eligible for this provisional status. And then they also have to pay some back taxes -- the people who are eligible. How does the government determine when someone got here, and what taxes they owe, if they've been doing it in the shadows and illegally?
RUBIO: Okay, first of all, the burden to prove they've been here is on them. So if they can't prove it, they can't stay, and it's not our fault. Second, obviously there are multiple factors that you use -- bank statements, utilities, school records, medical records -- these folks that are here illegally do leave a paper trail, even though we don't do anything about it. So again, the burden is on them to prove. And I would just say, the less documentation they have, the less likely they're telling the truth about it, and I think that's important. And let me just tell you why it's important to have a cut-off date in the past. That's because otherwise, everyone will claim -- I mean, people will rush the border and try to beat the deadlines, so I think that's an important provision in the bill, and again if there's a way to improve it, we should look at that. But it's important that we do have a date in the past that's a cut-off.
BENSON: Senator Marco Rubio, thank you so much for your time.
RUBIO: Thank you.
When the Senate defeated every single amendment to proposed gun control legislation last week, Harry Reid was forced to withdraw the entire bill. An enraged President Obama made a scathing statement at the White House, flanked by Newtown parent and Gabby Giffords. His message? Average Americans are disgusted with Congress' callous, dysfunctional inaction, and those responsible will pay a price at the ballot box. To which actual average Americans have responded with a collective meh:
The Senate’s defeat of a package of popular proposals aimed at curbing gun violence last week seemed certain to foment public outrage at out-of-touch politicians who don’t listen to their constituents. Not so much, according to a new Washington Post-Pew Research Center poll. Yes, a plurality (47 percent) describe themselves as either “angry” or “disappointed” about the failure of the gun legislation, but 39 percent call themselves “relieved” or “happy” about what happened. That’s a far cry from the 90-ish percent support that expanding background checks — the centerpiece of the proposed legislation — enjoyed. And, among those who said they were “very closely” keeping tabs on the vote, the split was even closer; 48 percent said they were angry/disappointed while 47 percent were relieved or happy...The numbers suggest that the White House wound up losing the message fight over the gun legislation. Rather than a conversation centered on widely-popular measures supported by members of both parties, the debate — at least as people perceived it — became a wider referendum on the proper place for guns in society.
Pew/WaPo's question wording was fairly straightforward but didn't do opponents of the bill any favors. It asked, "as you may know, the U.S. Senate voted down new gun control legislation, including background checks on gun purchases. Which word best describes how you feel about the fact that this gun legislation did not pass?" This question specifically mentions background checks, for which some polls have measured support in the 90 percent range -- about which Congress was regularly reminded by proponents. And yet, what was the grand total of "angry" respondents? 15 percent. Fifteen. This cohort was outnumbered by people who were "very happy" that the bill died. A roughly equal percentage pronounced themselves "relieved" that nothing was done. The relatively modest plurality (32 percent) described their reaction as "disappointed." Disappointed people shake their heads, roll their eyes, and move on. They don't mount a tear-off calendar on their bedroom wall, counting down the days until the next general election.
So despite months of spending political capital and employing every demagogic trick in the book, Obama couldn't even muster a "disappointed/angry" majority when the bill fell through. In fact, only Democrats responded net-negatively (22/67); Republicans (51/34) and independents (48/41) were both narrowly net-positive. And according to Gallup, less than five percent of the public views gun policy as a top priority. The spread between positive and negative reactions was a pretty slim eight points, and you can bet your bottom dollar that the truly motivated single-issue voters were more likely to oppose new gun control measures than support them. Which is why vulnerable and red state Democrats sided with the GOP. Speaking of those Dems, Mike Bloomberg's gun group is weighing whether to go all-in to defeat them. Speaking as a conservative who's generally ambivalent on the gun issue, I have a message for Team Bloomberg: Please -- please -- go for it.
This time, "what difference does it make?" isn't going to cut it. Despite the administration's nonchalant attitude and various efforts at suppression, the Benghazi outrage isn't going away. Via Erika Johnsen and CBS News:
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton left the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, vulnerable by approving lax security measures, a report released Tuesday by House Republicans concluded. The 46-page report accused Clinton — a possible White House contender in 2016 — of seeking to cover up failures by the State Department that could have contributed to the attack last year that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. The report, compiled by five House panels after a seven-month investigation, said Clinton approved reductions in security levels prior to the Sept. 11, 2012, attack, contradicting Clinton’s testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Jan. 23.
CBS News ticks down the three major findings of House Republicans' interim report (numerals mine):
(1) The committees' Republicans conclude that Clinton approved security reductions at the consulate, pointing to evidence such as an April 2012 State Department cable bearing her signature. The cable was a formal request from then-U.S. Ambassador to Libya Gene Cretz for more security. In her testimony before Congress in January, Clinton said, "With specific security requests they didn't come to me. I had no knowledge of them."
(2) The interim report also charges that White House and senior State Department officials attempted to protect the State Department from criticism by altering accurate talking points drafted by the intelligence community. For instance, the report says that, after a Sept. 15, 2012 meeting, administration officials removed references to the likely participation of Islamic extremists.
(3) The report also contradicts administration claims that the talking points were changed to protect classified information. None of the email exchanges reviewed ever mentioned a concern about classified information, according to the report.
The first item is the most damning, but let's work from the bottom up. Democrats and the White House have attempted hide behind "national security" and "classified information" to block the public from hearing details about what exactly happened on September 11, 2012. They used the same excuse to retool Susan Rice's ludicrous talking points before she appeared on five Sunday morning shows, spreading misinformation about the nature of the terrorist attack at every step. Internal documents obtained by House investigators also reveal that the administration's contemporaneous deliberations didn't mention these concerns; instead, they lay a trail of bread crumbs down the path of political ass-covering. The original talking points assembled by the intelligence community were accurate; they were altered by face-saving officials at State. And if they were so worried about sensitive information and documents getting into the wrong hands, why did they allow the compound to remain unsecured for weeks? Finally, Secretary Clinton wasn't truthful -- or at least wasn't accurate -- when she asserted that none of the requests for increased security measures in Benghazi reached her level. She personally signed a cable that bore at least one such request. The Hill has more:
“Repeated requests for additional security were denied at the highest levels of the State Department,” it said. “For example, an April 2012 State Department cable bearing Secretary Hillary Clinton’s signature acknowledged then-Ambassador [Gene] Cretz’s formal request for additional security assets but ordered the withdrawal of security elements to proceed as planned.”
Cretz's successor, Chris Stevens, pleaded for more resources, too, including on the day of his murder. It's important to remember that the administration didn't merely deny "repeated" appeals for more protection, they actually reduced our security footprint on the ground, for reasons that remain a mystery. We still don't know why the consulate's protection was so breathtakingly insufficient (despite the administration's insulting suggestions to the contrary). The report -- which remains incomplete -- also does not explain why numerous urgent requests for immediate help went unheeded during the hours-long raid itself. We still don't know where the President of the United States was during the bloodbath, nor is there an explanation for why zero forces or assets were deployed to help our people. Men died because of this unjustifiable inaction. Perhaps the "multiple" new whistle-blowers can help answer some of these critical, unanswered inquiries. People like Patricia Smith and Charlie Woods deserve the truth.
The latest Fox News poll on immigration is a fount of interesting -- and seemingly contradictory -- political data. Let's dig in. First thing's first:
Border security is another aspect of this issue, and opinions are changing. Nearly twice as many voters say border security is at the right level today (32 percent) as said so in 2010 (18 percent). Still, the poll finds 60 percent of voters think it is not strict enough, and another 68 percent want new border security measures to be completed before changes to immigration policies. Republicans (75 percent) are more likely than Democrats (66 percent) to say new security should be done first.
The real headline here is that two-thirds of Democrats back a "border security first" approach, which the most ardent advocates for "comprehensive" reform have resisted for years. The 'Gang of Eight' pact ostensibly addresses this point by erecting a series of security triggers along the path to amnesty, but for reasons I've explicated over the last two weeks, I'm skeptical about the efficacy of those benchmarks. I'm not alone. From a separate national survey:
But the poll found that only 23 percent of the likely 2014 voters surveyed believe that the government will actually be able secure the border, whereas 53 percent believe it will not. The immigration bill also aims to prevent newly legalized residents from going directly on government assistance and living at taxpayer expense. But 49 percent of those surveyed believe the government will be unable to prevent this from happening.
The fact is, Americans have heard a string of promises about immigration reform and border enforcement from their elected officials for many years -- yet the problem endures, to put things charitably. 'Gang' backers face another PR headwind: Overall trust in the federal government is scraping the bottom of the barrel, skepticism that's no doubt been spurred by failed and wasteful programs like the "stimulus," and a deteriorating healthcare law:
Just 28% rate the federal government in Washington favorably. That is down five points from a year ago and the lowest percentage ever in a Pew Research Center survey. The percentage of Democrats expressing a favorable opinion of the federal government has declined 10 points in the past year, from 51% to 41%. For the first time since Barack Obama became president, more Democrats say they have an unfavorable view of the federal government in Washington than a favorable view (51% unfavorable vs. 41% favorable). Favorable opinions of the federal government among Republicans, already quite low in 2012 (20% favorable), have fallen even further, to 13% currently.
People don't trust the federal government to do much of anything competently, let alone fix a perennial problem that Washington has failed to adequately address for decades. Reports like this about shifting goalposts and slippery standards don't help matters either. Back to the Fox poll for a moment, which includes some additional nuggets. In spite of their deep-seated cynicism, Americans overwhelmingly endorse (78/21) a path to citizenship for most illegals who are currently in the country, presumably after the border issues are resolved. But is that welcoming spirit running on empty? This is eye-opening:
More than half say we should cut the number of legal immigrants allowed into the United States. A just-released Fox News poll finds 55 percent of voters think fewer legal immigrants should be accepted into the U.S. That’s up from 43 percent in 2010. Majorities of Republicans (67 percent) and independents (53 percent) as well as a plurality of Democrats (47 percent) want to decrease legal immigration. Overall, 28 percent of voters say the U.S. should increase legal immigration.
Hasn't the mantra always been, "more legal immigration, less illegal immigration"? Apparently not, and I must say that I'm a little dismayed by this result. America has always been a nation of immigrants, and embracing those who come here in accordance with our laws has strengthened us throughout our history. We should enthusiastically welcome educated and skilled workers in particular, yet less than a third of our citizens share that view, evidently. At the same time, the poll reflected fairly positive views of immigrants overall, with a majority of respondents (50/38) asserting the belief that immigrants benefit the country. A few more take-aways from the survey:
- President Obama has slipped deeper underwater on the issue, with 39 percent approving of his performance and 51 percent disapproving.
- A plurality of Americans say illegal immigration is a bigger problem today than it was five years ago (when Obama took office), nearly five times the number of those who responded that things have improved.
- Despite all the recent discussion of immigration and guns within the Beltway, these issues aren't priorities for the public. Only four percent of Americans identify immigration reform as the top issue facing the nation; five percent say the same of gun control.
I'll leave you with this:
That's a new television ad from a group called "Americans for a Conservative Direction." It's airing in six states (Texas, Florida, Utah, North Carolina, Iowa and Kentucky), and urges conservatives to stand behind the bipartisan proposal -- casting it as a super-tough border enforcement plan. Will the Right bite? If National Review's editors are any indication, it's going to be a tough sell. I share several of the concerns laid out in NR's editorial and hope to address a number of them in a one-on-one interview with Sen. Rubio later today. Stay tuned...
Let's begin with the unambiguous promise that undergirded Barack Obama's "fairness" philosophy over two presidential campaigns:
"I can make this firm pledge. Under my plan, no family making less than $250,000 per year will see any form of tax increase. Not your income tax. Not your payroll tax. Not your capital gains taxes. Not any of your taxes."
Obama has already violated this vow on numerous occasions, especially through Obamacare and its central mandate tax. According to a new nonpartisan analysis, the president's FY 2014 budget would drive another stake through the heart of his "firm pledge" to middle class voters:
President Obama’s budget would raise taxes mainly on people earning more than $200,000 a year, although earners at nearly every income level would face a somewhat higher tax burden, according to a new nonpartisan analysis. The study by the Tax Policy Center finds that in 2015, 86 percent of the increase in taxes would be borne by people earning $200,000 or more a year. That would largely be a result of dramatically scaling back tax breaks that disproportionately benefit the wealthy and establishing a minimum level of taxation for people who earn $1 million a year. But the study also finds that some Americans of more modest backgrounds would face more taxes...The increase in taxes on middle-class earners is notable because both political parties have said that they do not want to raise taxes on people earning less than $200,000 a year. The president’s budget was released this month but is not expected to be taken up by Congress anytime soon. “We knew the president wanted to raise additional revenue focused on high-income folks,” said Donald Marron, director of the Tax Policy Center. “The old idea of not raising taxes on people earning below $200,000 and $250,000 seems to have gone away.”
Now that Obama has been re-elected, he no longer has to worry about the prospect of facing voters. This affords him the luxury of enjoying the post-election "flexibility" he's touted in the past -- and on which he's followed through. In addition to an abstruse shift in tax formulas affecting personal exemptions and the standard deduction, the bulk of Obama's proposed lower-income tax increase comes in the form of new tobacco taxes, which we've discussed previously. This is a sharply regressive tax that disproportionately affects the poor. The administration claims the tax's receipts would simultaneously discourage people from smoking and provide a viable long-term funding mechanism for a federal universal pre-K program. Policy analysts on both sides of the spectrum have concluded that the math won't work. This new levy comes in addition to Obama's 2009 cigarette tax. His overall FY '14 tax hike package is layered on top of $1.6 trillion in previous tax increases he's already imposed. Obama's budget calls for approximately $1.1 trillion in new taxes, nearly double the amount that the White House has stated publicly. Obama's desired tax hikes on the lower and middle class appear to be a baby step toward the fiscal scenario articulated by former DNC Chairman Howard Dean: Significantly higher taxes for everyone, to partially keep pace with runaway Washington spending.
Good news, bad news here. First, the news itself:
Montana Sen. Max Baucus will not seek reelection in 2014, becoming the latest senior red-state Democrat to bail out of a potentially difficult reelection campaign, a senior Democratic official confirmed to POLITICO. Baucus, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, had nearly $5 million in the bank at the end of the first quarter but was expected to face a tough fight in his GOP-leaning home state.
The good news is that Baucus joins a growing list of red and purple-state Democrats who aren't interested in facing voters next year, increasing Republicans' chances of making significant gains in the upper chamber. The GOP needs to net six seats to seize the Senate -- still a very tall task, but one that's made easier by this roster:
Baucus joins colleagues Tim Johnson of South Dakota, Tom Harkin of Iowa, Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, Carl Levin of Michigan and Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey in exiting the 2014 race. His Montana seat is likely to be one of the toughest on that list for Democrats to defend.
Of these open races, Republicans simply must have at least three of the following four seats to have a prayer of displacing Harry Reid as majority leader: Johnson's, Harkin's, Rockefeller's, and now Baucus'. The plan would also require knocking off a string of vulnerable incumbents, including North Carolina's Kay Hagan, Arkansas' Mark Pryor, Louisiana's Mary Landrieu, and Alaska's Mark Begich. Of the eight Senators listed, seven represent states carried by Mitt Romney last fall (Iowa being the lone exception). So the good news from a conservative perspective is that the tracherous road for the DSCC is getting tougher, and a realistic path to a GOP majority is at least in sight. Baucus was re-elected in 2008, carrying 73 percent of the vote and winning every county in the state. The fact that he's languishing in the mid-40s (see below) demonstrates how far he's fallen. The bad news? Baucus may actually have been easier to supplant as an incumbent. Democratic sources in the state tell me that the senior Senator isn't especially popular back home, a fact underscored by a recent poll that showed former Democratic Governor Brian Schweitzer leading Baucus in a potential primary match-up. Schweitzer posted the results on his Facebook page, fueling speculation that he was considering a run at Baucus and perhaps chasing the incumbent from the race. Schweitzer is well-liked in Montana, and could make it harder for Republicans to pick off the seat if he decides to run, which looks more likely than ever. For context, Mitt Romney won Montana by 14 points last year, but Tester managed to hang on by four points, despite voters' disapproval of Barack Obama. Nevertheless, Republicans have four elements in their favor at the moment: (1) Indecision on the other side, (2) a national discussion about gun control -- anathema to Montana voters that could allow the GOP to nationalize the election there, (3) a president who's very unpopular in the state, and (4) several potential candidates who are effectively tied with Schweitzer in hypothetical match-ups:
A February survey from the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling found that Baucus was polling in the mid-40s and trailing both GOP Rep. Steve Daines and former Gov. Marc Racicot in general election matches. Schweitzer was effectively tied with both top-tier Republicans in the same poll, leading Daines by 3 points and following Racicot by 1 point.
For his part, Schweitzer seemed to rule out a Senate run last year, taking a pointed shot at the institution: "I am not goofy enough to be in the House, and I'm not senile enough to be in the Senate." Schweitzer attracted negative attention for telling an out-of-state group of trial lawyers that he used his power as governor to exert ethically-questionable influence on the electoral process to help secure Sen. Jon Tester's narrow 2006 victory over Republican Conrad Burns. Schweitzer claims he was joking. He also told an Ohio group that many of his state's voters are "racists" and "rednecks." Baucus recently described Obamacare's implementation as a "huge train wreck." He was a key co-author of the 2010 law. Aides say that because Baucus is liberated from his re-election struggle, he can focus on pushing for comprehensive tax reform, free from partisan pressures. I'll leave you with the NRSC's statement on the race:
"Just days after calling ObamaCare a 'train wreck,' its architect Max Baucus waved the white flag rather than face voters. ObamaCare has gone from being an ‘abstract’ discussion to a real life pain for workers and families, which has Democratic candidates like Bruce Braley, Mark Pryor, Mark Begich and Kay Hagan backpedaling. Vulnerable Democrats will face voters just as ObamaCare's tax hikes, mandates, fees, penalties, and red tape bureaucracy take shape over the next eight months, and Senator Baucus' retirement reflects that political reality. The 2014 electoral map is in free–fall for Democrats, who were already facing a daunting challenge."
If the GOP has a big cycle next year, it will share one major theme with 2010's tidal wave: Obamacare.
Fox News' Roger Ailes: Administration's Excuses Won't Work, Americans Died For Press Freedom | Katie Pavlich