Republicans retaining control of the House of Representatives after November's elections would officially usher in the lame duck years of Barack Obama's presidency. Democratic party elders seemed to bow to the inevitable in late January when they began openly discussing the possibility of hoisting the white flag on Congress' lower chamber. That strategic retreat, they said, would allow the party to marshal its resources and defend its imperiled Senate majority via triage. In spite of this 'desperate times' approach, one would assume that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) would at least put on a brave face and offer perfunctorily upbeat assessments of Democrats' chances. They, after all, have donors to motivate, candidates to encourage, and incumbents to persuade to hang on for another cycle. So what to make of this?
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee released its initial list of top 2014 races Monday. The 19 districts and 16 individual candidates who won the committee's "Red to Blue" designation show which races are drawing early attention from the party, but they also demonstrate, along with races not on the list, how difficult it will be for Democrats to capture the House majority. First of all, the DCCC named 16 initial Red to Blue candidates this week, but the party needs to net 17 House seats for a majority. Plus, three of the designees are for seats that Democrats already hold, and retirements by two Democrats in conservative areas—Reps. Jim Matheson of Utah and Mike McIntyre of North Carolina—put the party in an even deeper hole. Republicans are expected to win those seats without much of a fight. If last year is any indication, some of the 19 second-tier "Emerging Races" districts the DCCC also identified Monday will get promoted as the cycle goes on, but the initial list outlines how difficult it is for Democrats to win the House.
Democrats need to net 17 seats to regain a House majority -- a tall order, especially given the fact that the GOP believes it can expand its majority by picking off a number of Democrat-held seats. It's telling that the DCCC could only dream up 16 "red to blue" candidates to list as prime targets. Even if Democrats managed to guide every single one of those 16 to victory, that still wouldn't be sufficient to win the House. As National Journal also notes, three of the 19 overall "red to blue" races, er, aren't red; they're seats that would stay blue if Democrats prevail. Perhaps it's not too difficult to see how an electoral model run last month determined that Democrats' chances of recapturing the House topped out at...one percent. The DCCC's Republican counterpart (NRCC) is calling attention to an interview that aired on MSNBC this morning, in which DCCC chairman Rep. Steve Israel served up a conflicting and confusing message about his party's chances this fall. Among other things, Israel said it is "too early to say" whether his party will secure a House majority. That cautious response may seem prudent today, but it's a stark reversal from what Israel told USA Today just a few months ago:
The leader of the DCCC has gone from "I think we have a good chance of winning the House" in November, to "oh, it's just too early to say, really" in March. That's not a subtle shift. Democrats can read the writing on the wall, which is why they're sprinting toward a "save the Senate!" approach. Speaking of which, Republicans recruited an excellent candidate in Colorado's Senate race, in which incumbent Sen. Mark Udall looks more vulnerable than ever. The GOP actually managed to strategize successfully, effectively clearing the field for talented up-and-comer Rep. Cory Gardner. Winning Udall's seat is by no means a slam dunk for Republicans, but Gardner will be a strong candidate -- and numbers like this can't be shrugged off:
Lest you think that's a rosy red, home-cooked GOP polling result, recall Quinnipiac's recent numbers in the Rocky Mountain state. According to a statewide survey released last month, President Obama's approval rating is deep underwater in Colorado, and Udall's re-elect number was in the low 40's. Democrats are going to have to work hard to successfully defend this seat, and resources are finite. Every dollar that goes to Denver is a dollar that isn't headed to Little Rock, or Raleigh, or Baton Rouge, or Anchorage, or Detroit, or Helena, or....
Last week we were told by House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa that Lois Lerner, former head of tax exempt groups at the IRS, would be recalled to testify this week about the improper targeting of conservative, tea party and patriot groups. Issa reassured Lerner would testify during an appearance yesterday on Fox News Sunday. Now, despite being issue a subpoena, Lerner's attorney is telling POLITICO she will not testify and will continue to exercise her right to plead the 5th as she did last summer when called to testify about the scandal.
That attorney, William W. Taylor, said Issa is wrong.
“As of now, she intends to continue to assert her Fifth Amendment rights,” Taylor told POLITICO. “I do not know why Issa said what he said.”
For months there have been rumblings of Lerner demanding immunity in exchange for her testimony, despite saying under oath she has, "done nothing wrong." Earlier this morning Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz stated that Lerner's testimony and response to a subpoena is not negotiable.
"She knows a lot about this case. We have issued a subpoena. We have voted on this, this is not an optional activity. We're not giving her immunity, she's going to come testify in front of Congress," Chaffetz said during an interview on Fox News.
"They agreed to come Wednesday and they agreed to answer our questions," South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy said in a later interview on the network. "She is coming Wednesday and there's no question about that."
Democrat Governor Jerry Brown opposed marijuana legalization during an interview on Meet the Press Sunday. By advertising and codifying the drug, Brown feared its acceptance and use could lead to a less alert and less competitive population.
The problem with anything, a certain amount is okay. But there is a tendency to go to extremes. And all of a sudden, if there's advertising and legitimacy, how many people can get stoned and still have a great state or a great nation? The world's pretty dangerous, very competitive. I think we need to stay alert, if not 24 hours a day, more than some of the potheads might be able to put together.
California was the first state to legalize medical marijuana back in 1996.
Brown said he will be closely watching Colorado and Washington, two states where recreational pot has been legalized.
Watch the interview here:
As President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry continue to drown in their own foreign policy failures, Russia is demanding Ukrainian troops in Crimea surrender or face a military storm. More from the BBC:
The Russian military has given Ukrainian forces in Crimea until 03:00 GMT to surrender or face an assault, Ukrainian defence sources have said.
The head of Russia's Black Sea Fleet Aleksander Vitko set the deadline and threatened an attack "across Crimea".
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov earlier said Russia was responding to "ultra-nationalist threats".
Western powers have condemned Moscow's decision to send troops as a "violation of Ukraine's sovereignty".
And from Sky News:
“If they do not surrender before 5am tomorrow, a real assault will be started against units and divisions of the armed forces across Crimea," Russia’s Black Sea Fleet Commander Alexander Vitko told the Interfax news agency Monday, Sky News reports.
The question now becomes: Does this cross the "line" the White House referred to last week?
The Obama administration on Friday told Russia not to cross a “line” in Ukraine, though officials wouldn’t speculate about what the U.S. will do if Moscow disregards the warning about its politically chaotic neighbor.
“We are watching to see … whether or not Russia is doing anything that might be crossing the line in any way,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters Friday.
Vice President Joe Biden reportedly had a phone conversation this morning with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev about the ongoing stand-off. No word of flexibility.
Meanwhile here's some more great news, China is backing Russia on its invasion of Ukraine.
China has backed Russia in a tense standoff with the US and Europe that has erupted following the pro-West revolution in Ukraine.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov discussed the unfolding crisis in its southern neighbour in a phone conversation with his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi.
"The foreign ministers of both countries exchanged views on the situation in Ukraine. They noted the coincidence of positions on this aspect," a spokesperson for the Russian ministry said, Itar-Tass news agency reported.
There is a lot of important news today. So it seems silly to write about the fact that Ellen DeGeneres' Oscar "selfie" succeeded in breaking the record set in 2012 by the President after his re-election.
But actually, it's not silly and here's why: The fact that a couple of movie stars were able spontaneously to generate more retweets than the world's most powerful man is a reminder that our politics follows our culture. That means that conservatives will not ever truly prevail in American politics unless we find a way to engage constructively and successfully with the culture.
No one has made this point more compellingly than Andrew Klavan in his pamphlet "The Crisis in the Arts":
[T[he conscience of a race is forged in the soul of a nation’s artists, and it is from that conscience that legislation and politics arise. By the time a fight becomes political — by the time its outcome depends on an election — it is often too late to win by means of rational argument. The battle has already been decided in movies and on television, in novels and in popular songs that, over time, create a general sense — an atmosphere — of what is right and what is wrong, what is cool and what is not, what it takes to be, in Joseph Conrad’s phrase, “one of us.”
Klavan has some innovative ways that conservatives can try to influence the culture. One thing is certain: It's not enough for us to be adversarial (although that can be fun, and certainly is often easy!). It's time for us to start creating some new and intelligent ways to reach those who are infinitely more likely to retweet a celebrity photo than a political one.
I don’t what it is about that “Dallas Buyers” cast, but they proved to be pretty classy guys at last night’s Oscars. Lead actor winner Matthew McConaughey praised God for his first Oscar win – a breath of fresh air during a night in which He seemed to be all but forgotten. But, before McConaughey praised the Almighty, his costar Jared Leto also shared a beautiful message in his acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actor.
Leto, like McConaughey, was a first time Oscar winner last night. As such, he took advantage of the opportunity to share his mom’s courageous story:
In 1971, Bossier City, Louisiana, there was a teenage girl who was pregnant with her second child. She was a high school dropout and a single mom, but somehow she manage to make a better life for herself and her children. She encouraged her kids to be creative, to work hard and to do something special. That girl is my mother and she’s here tonight. And I just want to say ‘I love you mom, thank you for teaching me to dream.’
I want to thank Jared Leto for using the Oscar stage to recognize and appreciate his mother’s life giving decision. She proved that even as a teenage, high school dropout, she could succeed as a mother. She had no idea her son would win an Oscar one day.
Does this not prove that every human life has potential? Even if it was not his intention(a quick Google search suggests the actor is pro-choice), I hope Leto’s speech will encourage other scared, young women out there who are debating what to do about their pregnancies, to give their unborn child a chance. Their son or daughter may thank them on stage one day.
Watch Leto's whole speech here:
Late last week, Russia invaded the sovereign territory of Ukraine, and has been escalating the conflict ever since. For a quick summary of the unfolding events, see Buzzfeed's useful timeline. For a steely-eyed (and fairly depressing) analysis of why Putin has been so brazen and bellicose, read The New Republic's Julia Ioffe -- who was a trenchant observer of the Obama administration's Putin-orchestrated Syria debacle. The United States has looked disoriented and impotent throughout the current ordeal. US intelligence failed to predict Putin's hostile gambit, as Secretary of State John Kerry expressed confidence that the situation was copacetic right up until the nature of the invasion became undeniable. Even then, the administration at first euphemized Russian troops' illegal violation of Ukrainian sovereignty as an "uncontested arrival."
President Obama offered brief, stern-sounding remarks on Friday afternoon; within minutes, he retreated to a DNC party where he officially declared happy hour open. Really. Putin responded to this show of American seriousness by asking the upper chamber of Russia's parliament to authorize military force in Ukraine. Following a series of nationalistic speeches -- many of which denounced the United States -- the resolution passed unanimously, with legislators belting out the Russian national anthem. On Saturday, Obama skipped his team's national security briefing on the growing crisis, opting for briefings from Susan Rice interspersed between phone calls with foreign leaders. The White House defensively insisted that Obama's absence from the meeting was "not unusual." One of his conversations was with Vladimir Putin, in which the leader of the free world expressed "deep concerns," and called on Russia's autocratic leader to pull back his troops. Putin made it perfectly clear that he "reserves the right" to do precisely the opposite:
Vladimir Putin stressed that in case of any further spread of violence to Eastern Ukraine and Crimea, Russia retains the right to protect its interests and the Russian-speaking population of those areas.
A Russian push deeper into eastern Ukraine now seems inevitable. Under this standard, Russia reiterated its lack of respect for international borders, as it clearly demonstrated in its 2008 incursion into Georgia. Russian troops have occupied several regions of that former Soviet state ever since, all under the pretext of "protecting" ethnically Russian populations. That's why other neighboring nations with sizable Russian populations are beginning to worry if they may be the next target of Putin's expansionist designs. For its part, the United States government looks confused and impotent. A weekend analysis in the Washington Post noted that Putin is capitalizing on American incoherence, reasoning that the Crimean provocation was years in the making. In short, weakness is provocative:
Now Ukraine has emerged as a test of Obama’s argument that, far from weakening American power, he has enhanced it through smarter diplomacy, stronger alliances and a realism untainted by the ideology that guided his predecessor. It will be a hard argument for him to make, analysts say. A president who has made clear to the American public that the “tide of war is receding” has also made clear to foreign leaders, including opportunists in Russia, that he has no appetite for a new one. What is left is a vacuum once filled, at least in part, by the possibility of American force. “If you are effectively taking the stick option off the table, then what are you left with?” said Andrew C. Kuchins, who heads the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “I don’t think that Obama and his people really understand how others in the world are viewing his policies.” Rarely has a threat from a U.S. president been dismissed as quickly — and comprehensively — as Obama’s warning Friday night to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Obama's Ukraine stumble isn't an isolated incident, the Post piece explains:
The position Obama is in, confronting a brazenly defiant Russia and with few ways to meaningfully enforce his threat, has been years in the making. It is the product of his record in office and of the way he understands the period in which he is governing, at home and abroad. At the core of his quandary is the question that has arisen in White House debates over the Afghan withdrawal, the intervention in Libya and the conflict in Syria — how to end more than a dozen years of American war and maintain a credible military threat to protect U.S. interests. The signal Obama has sent — popular among his domestic political base, unsettling at times to U.S. allies — has been one of deep reluctance to use the heavily burdened American military, even when doing so would meet the criteria he has laid out...But Obama’s rejection of U.S. military involvement in Syria’s civil war, in which 140,000 people have died since he first called on President Bashar al-Assad to step down, is the leading example of his second term. So, too, is the Pentagon budget proposal outlined this past week that would cut the size of the army to pre-2001 levels. Inside the West Wing, there are two certainties that color any debate over intervention: that the country is exhausted by war and that the end of the longest of its post-Sept. 11 conflicts is less than a year away. Together they present a high bar for the use of military force. Ukraine has challenged administration officials — and Obama’s assessment of the world — again.
Obama's focus has always been on advancing a liberal domestic policy agenda, with foreign policy simmering on the back-burner. This administration has seemed determined to present itself as the anti-Bush, exceedingly hesitant to exercise American hard power, and focused on restoring America's image in the world by adopting a more thoughtful global posture. One of the centerpieces of this "smart power" approach was a "reset" in US-Russo relations, a policy that lies in tatters. America has sacrificed much in exchange for a parade of Russian treachery, vis-a-vis Syria, Snowden and now Ukraine. The "reset" has clearly benefited the Kremlin. What, if anything, has the US gained? For a sense of how cynical and calculating Putin has been in advancing his interests while stifling ours, re-read his New York Times op-ed on Syria, published on September 11 of last year. As Obama pondered strikes against the Moscow-backed and -armed Assad regime, Putin averred that military action requires "consensus" within the international community. That doctrine of restraint and consensus plainly didn't apply to Russia when it invaded Georgia, however, and it's been discarded again in Crimea.
Now a debate is underway as to how the United States ought to respond to the Russian invasion, as some Ukrainian leaders are blasting America's "pathetic" response. Complicating matters is a 1994 treaty signed by the US, UK, Russia and Ukraine. In exchange for Ukraine surrendering its Soviet-era nuclear weapons, the western powers pledged to defend Ukraine's territory. The Obama administration reaffirmed these "security assurances" in 2010. If the US does little to defend Ukraine today, how will that reflect on America's word in the eyes of friends and foes alike? And what impact will that have on the efficacy of diplomacy? Sen. Marco Rubio suggests eight retaliatory steps the White House could take that fall short of military intervention, several of which already appear to be taking place. John Kerry said that "all options" remain on the table, while offering up bizarre condemnations like this:
Invasion is not the act of someone who is strong. It is the act of someone who is weak. @FaceTheNation— John Kerry (@JohnKerry) March 2, 2014
ABC News' George Stephanopolous pressed Kerry on whether Putin is listening to Obama at all:
This seems like a fair moment to recall Obama and Kerry's outright mockery of Mitt Romney, who stated during the 2012 campaign that he viewed Russia as America's top geopolitical foe -- which the press ridiculed as a "gaffe." Who's laughing now? Recent polls have shown that majorities of Americans believe Obama's foreign policies are too weak, and that foreign leaders don't respect him. Vladimir Putin is validating those assessments in living color.
UPDATE - Another Russian escalation:
CNN BREAKING: Russia issues ultimatum to Ukrainian forces in Crimea to clear out by Tuesday morning or face ‘military storm'— Vaughn Sterling (@vplus) March 3, 2014
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) still has not fully recovered from his work with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) on S.744, but events in Venezuela and Ukraine last week have reminded many conservatives why Rubio would be a strong choice for the Republican White House nominee in 2016
First on Monday, Rubio gave an amazing 14-minute speech on the Senate floor taking Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) to task for his recent praise of the communist regime in Cuba. Rubio tied the Cuban regime to events in Venezuela and North Korea, making an impassioned defense of freedom and humans rights. Rubio's media team deftly got the video up on YouTube and it was admiringly posted on pretty much every conservative website (Townhall included).
And then, this weekend, after Obama declared it was "happy hour time with the Democratic party" while Russian troops invaded Ukraine, Rubio offered a much stronger and coherent response. On Saturday, his team placed a piece on Politico outlining "8 Steps Obama Must Take to Punish Russia," and on Sunday Rubio turned in a solid performance opposite Secretary of State John Kerry on Meet the Press:
Well, I think our policy towards Russia under this administration deserves a heavy amount of criticism. I usually shy away from that in moments of crisis, when it's important for the nation to speak with one voice. And I'm encouraged by much of what I heard Secretary Kerry just say a moment ago, although there are things I'd like to see a few in addition to the steps he's outlined.
I think moving forward, as you look at, for example, Secretary Kerry a moment ago mentioned success with the START treaty. Yet, we know that the Russians have basically violated every major treated they've ever entered into.
We see how they basically lied. I mean, let's call it what it is. They are lying and this government is a government of liars, the Russian government. And you see it, what's happening now in Crimea. I mean, they're claiming they're not there, you've got these individuals showing up in unmarked uniforms, wearing masks.
But clearly, they're Russian troops, even though they refused to acknowledge it. So you're dealing with a government that lies as a matter of course, and it's very difficult to enter an understanding with them on anything when they are willing to lie and cover things up in this way.
This is exactly the type of clear, tough talk that all conservatives want to see from their candidates on foreign policy. Obama's foreign policy vision, as even The Washington Post is now admitting, is pure fantasy. And no one is better positioned than Rubio to make that case.
I have been very critical of Rubio's effort to pass S. 744. But 2013 was a long time ago and will feel even more distant when White House hopefuls start debating in 2015.
Rubio may still be the Republican's 2016 nominee yet.
In case you missed it last night, Matthew McConaughey won the Oscar for best actor as a result of his work in "Dallas Buyer's Club." To kick off his acceptance speech, McConaughey thanked God for the blessings in his life and then he thanked his family.
"First off I want to thank God, because he's the one I look up to, he's graced my life with opportunities that I know are not of my hand or any other human kind. He has shown me that it's a scientific fact that gratitude reciprocates. In the words of the late (British actor) Charlie Laughton, who said, 'When you got God you got a friend and that friend is you.'"
It's officially March which means individuals without health insurance have until the 31st to sign up for Obamacare or face a fine. March 31 is when open enrollment for 2014 ends according to healthcare.gov. Individuals who don't sign up for Obamacare or some form of health plan by the end of the month are subject to a fine while employers and big companies have been given a delay by the Obama administration.
If someone who can afford health insurance doesn’t have coverage in 2014, they may have to pay a [fine]. They also have to pay for all of their health care.
The fine is sometimes called the "penalty," "individual responsibility payment," or "individual mandate."
The penalty in 2014 is calculated one of 2 ways. You’ll pay whichever of these amounts is higher:
-1% of your yearly household income. (Only the amount of income above the tax filing threshold, $10,150 for an individual, is used to calculate the penalty.) The maximum penalty is the national average yearly premium for a bronze plan.
-$95 per person for the year ($47.50 per child under 18). The maximum penalty per family using this method is $285.
The way the penalty is calculated, a single adult with household income below $19,650 would pay the $95 flat rate. A single adult with household income above $19,650 would pay an amount based on the 1 percent rate. (If income is below $10,150, no penalty is owed.)
The penalty increases every year. In 2015 it’s 2% of income or $325 per person. In 2016 and later years it’s 2.5% of income or $695 per person. After that it's adjusted for inflation.
If you’re uninsured for just part of the year, 1/12 of the yearly penalty applies to each month you’re uninsured. If you’re uninsured for less than 3 months, you don’t have to make a payment.
Where does the fine come from? The IRS of course. Last week the IRS released a list of Obamacare "Heathcare Tax Tips" reminding people to be sure to submit their health insurance status along with their tax returns.
Here's another friendly reminder: Even with Obamacare and a massive overhaul of our health system, 30 million out of the 45 million uninsured will remain uninsured. Before Obamacare was passed, 80 percent of Americans already had health insurance either through their employer or through the individual marketplace. As Kevin detailed yesterday, Obamacare enrollment numbers are lagging far behind Obama administration hopes and estimates.