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Why the IRS scandal might be a good thing for Democrats

A scandal for the political party in power is almost always bad news. This time could be different for the Democrats, though, because of the force with which President Barack Obama and his allies on Capitol Hill have responded.

Internal Revenue Service workers inappropriately targeted conservative groups who sought to be tax-exempt, particularly those with the words “tea party” or “patriot” in the name. The agency failed to do the same with liberal groups.

Certainly it does not produce good headlines for the White House, but it appears Obama has not been complicit in the enhanced scrutiny for the right-leaning groups. He condemned the IRS’s practices, calling them “outrageous” at a Monday press conference. The Department of Justice opened up a criminal investigation on Tuesday. 

These developments have tea party groups and their supporters up in arms. While the movement’s momentum may have largely subsided, this matter could energize stalwarts and spark a new wave of tea party candidates.

This could be a blessing for Democrats. Real Clear Politics shows the party currently leads Republicans by slightly more than three points in a generic congressional vote. Even the conservative polling firm Rasmussen shows a two-point lead for the blue crew. Plus, the tea party’s public image needs a makeover.

Perhaps the most recent numbers, a January Rasmussen poll showed only 8 percent of Americans identify themselves as members of this political movement. While a revival may not necessarily bring as strong a surge as in 2010, it’s still not something Republicans should embrace given the lackluster image of the group.

Conservative activists have nominated several questionable candidates that arguably cost the Republican Party several seats in both the 2010 and 2012 elections, think Sharon Angle in Nevada and Todd Akin in Missouri.

Whether or not anything comes of the Department of Justice’s investigation, Democrats, and particularly those in the Obama administration, can point to this inquiry as proof they have no tolerance for such actions.

The Republican Party might face a conundrum — if no one disagrees with you, who will you fight with? 

— Andrew Hedlund, Medill News Service



Opposition for oppositions’ sake

President Barack Obama begins another jobs tour this week. On this trip he is highlighting new efforts to boost advanced manufacturing in the country, according to reports from The Washington Post and The New York Times.

The trip stems from a new executive order the president issued mandating more transparency and better data-sharing between government and the private sector. The order is targeted at helping entrepreneurs and small business owners. The president will also push for a one-time $1 billion payment to establish Institutes for Manufacturing Innovation. The institutes would be a collaborative effort of governments and businesses aimed at making the country’s manufacturing sector competitive at a global level. The establishment of such organizations may have a slim-to-none chance of becoming reality.

As The Times’ Michael Shear reports, the GOP has been “cool to the idea,” and not in the cool-awesome way. Republicans have not exactly been negotiable parties though. The three big bipartisan deals — a 2010 deal to extend the Bush-era tax cuts, a deal to raise the debt ceiling in August 2011 and the recent fiscal cliff deal — only came about because Washington was in crisis mode.

It’s possible, some may argue, to draw comparisons between the Republicans of today and the Democrats from the years of George W. Bush. Democrats won control of Congress in 2006 by opposing an unpopular president and his policies. Republicans won the House of Representatives in 2010 because they ran against a semi-unpopular president and his controversial health care law.

But the American Enterprise Institute’s Norm Ornstein doesn’t think that the comparison is apt.

Because Bush assumed the presidency under poor circumstances — Bush v. Gore and hanging chads, anyone? — Democrats could have opposed his initiatives, but instead they provided crucial votes for Bush’s education reform legislation as well as what have been dubbed the “Bush tax cuts,” he said.

Ornstein said that the GOP opposition to Obama is “strategic as well as tribal.”

“I think that’s not just a feeling or an impression, it’s pretty obvious if you look at the policies,” he said.

It’s not just apparent in policies or rhetoric though. The Senate has ground to a halt thanks to the arcane procedural hurdle known as the filibuster — which requires a supermajority of 60 votes, rather than a simple majority, to proceed. The Century Foundation, which describes itself as a progressive nonpartisan think tank,  provides a handy little graph showing the rapid rise of such maneuvers.


It should be noted that the Democrats are not blameless in the process. They held the record for filibusters from the 1995-96 Congress until the 2009-10 Congress, which the GOP set a new high.The Democrats had a filibuster-proof majority for some of that session, but either way, the Republicans forced Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to file about 140 cloture motions.

There is probably no end in sight. Because Republicans are set against “Obamacare” and Democrats are determined to protect it, there will be plenty of filibustering on health care alone.

— By Andrew Hedlund, Medill News Service



Forcing the GOP House majority’s hand on immigration reform

In this morning’s The Washington Post’s Morning Fix, Chris Cillizza penned an insightful analysis of immigration reform vs. a grand bargain on the nation’s debt. To sum up his argument, immigration reform is much easier to find common ground on because it isn’t the Republican Party’s signature issue and changing demographics make inaction on something this significant politically perilous for the GOP. More than 70 percent of the Hispanic vote went for President Barack Obama in last November’s election, a potential harbinger for Republicans. 

As recently as 2004, then-President George W. Bush garnering 44 percent of the Hispanic vote. Despite conservative tendencies in many areas, Bush actually had a moderate immigration reform plan he pushed. But amid Hurricane Katrina, a slowing economy, and a war of which the public grew weary, it got lost in the shuffle. And that brings us to where we are today. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney talked about “self-deportation ” last year or, more bluntly put, making life so difficult for undocumented immigrants that they voluntarily leave.

A large obstacle stands in immigration reform’s way: the House of Representatives. Speaker John Boehner and the GOP leadership in the lower chamber often face a conservative revolt, something that Politico’s Jake Sherman outlined yesterday. Many blame Republican redistricting as the culprit of this. The argument says that redistricting essentially put the GOP House majority on lock for the next decade, meaning many districts are substantially more conservative than they would otherwise be.

There are competing views of this. Two prominent analyses were published in February examining this. Sam Wang, who runs the Princeton Election Consortium, argued in The New York Times, agreed with the redistricting argument while political scientists Danny Hayes and John Sides rebut this idea in The Washington Post’s Wonkblog. The idea bears a second look because the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee is scheduled to begin hearings on immigration reform legislation next week. 

The unwritten Hastert Rule is essential for maintaining support among the House Republican caucus for Boehner. This idea says that any legislation a speaker brings to the floor should have a majority of the majority backing it. The conservative tendency of many House GOP lawmakers though might make this very difficult. Thus, the Ohio Republican may rely on Democratic votes to put a moderate immigration plan over the top — or at least an immigration plan that stands a chance of passing the Democratic Senate. 

Perhaps the easiest way to force House action on immigration legislation is to amass 70 votes or more in the Senate in favor of the Gang of Eight’s immigration plan. This would mean at least a majority of the minority caucus supported any overhaul that might hit the Senate floor. Such a bipartisan majority would alienate conservatives in the House, forcing them to either accept the blame for the plan’s failure or move to the center. Similar scenarios happened at the end of 2011 when Congress renewed the temporary payroll tax cut and on the fiscal cliff deal. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is normally in lockstep with Boehner, abandoned the speaker, leaving him between a rock and a hard place. 

Failure to pass an immigration reform plan leaves the House majority vulnerable on an important issue in next year’s midterm election. Last year, the Democrat’s new governing coalition, of which Hispanics make a substantial portion, proved 2008 was not a fluke. If the president can get these same voters fired up and convince them to turn out for a midterm election, which is more difficult than ratcheting up turnout in a presidential year, the Republicans might lose seats, particularly if approval ratings stay where they are. 

Andrew Hedlund, Medill News Service



Baucus retirement makes uphill climb for GOP easier

Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., announced Tuesday he will not seek re-election in 2014, making it much harder for the Democrats to hold onto the Senate. That makes six Democratic senators who are retiring, with three from key red and swing states. 

Sens. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, Tim Johnson, D-S.D., and Jay Rockefeller, D-W.V., are also retiring. Each state represents a pick-up opportunity for Republicans. Throw Montana in the mix and a total of four open seats are up for grabs. Add on the pick-up opportunities in Louisiana, North Carolina, Alaska and Arkansas, the GOP has a lot of opportunities to gain seats.

In 2014, Democrats must defend 21 seats to the Republicans 13. To take control of the Senate again requires a Herculean task from the Republicans — they would need to nearly run the table on the seats discussed above. With a current 55-45 split, the GOP needs six of the eight.

While most people would rather defend 13 seats than 21, it should be noted that the Republican Party has failed to capitalize on pick-up opportunities in the past two election cycles. The 2010 midterms provided a very GOP-friendly atmosphere, but poor candidates cost the party control of the Senate. In 2012, Democrats were defending 23 seats and should have, by all measures, lost control of the Senate. Instead, another series of poor candidates let the Democrats gain two seats.

Intra-party fighting has left conservative activists at odds with the Republican Party establishment. Whether those tensions can be overcome may well determine if the Republicans have a good election night or whether it will be just another series of lost opportunities.

- By Andrew Hedlund, Medill News Service

Baucus won’t seek re-election in 2014

Sen. Max Baucus, the Democrat from Montana who is chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, will not seek re-election in 2014, his  colleagues said Tuesday.

Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah said Baucus has “indicated” his decision to retire after 36 years in the Senate.

Baucus will become the sixth Senate Democrat to announce a departure after the 2014 elections. Two Republicans have also announced they won’t run for their Senate seats.

“Lets not spoil his decision here,” Hatch said. “He’s a good guy and has been a very fair and decent chairman. He is pleased that he finally made a decision and he has a wonderful place to go back to.”

The retirements are fueling a Washington debate about which political party may control the chamber after the midterm elections. Democrats currently hold the majority.

This decision also comes while Congress is heatedly debating tax reform, and Baucus, from a conservative state, has often confounded his Democratic colleagues by working closely with Republicans.

Hatch says the Senate needs to pass tax reform sooner than 2014. “We have to do it in a shorter time frame. He (Baucus) needs to go out in style and needs support with as many people as he can get on his side,” Hatch said. “He has significant support form our side.”

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, did not confirm whether Baucus was leaving this afternoon, but he did offer his praise for Montana’s senior senator.

“It’s going to be a big loss for the Senate as an institution, as a deliberative body where people try to work together in a bipartisan way,” Grassley said.

Grassley said he was closest to Baucus professionally than any other senator.

“One of the main goals I’m sure he wants would be tax reform and I think that is dependent on what he could do now,” Grassley said.

Baucus would not immediately comment to the press Tuesday afternoon. “There are certain people I have to talk to first,” he said.


Baucus is expected to make a formal announcement of his decision to retire later in the afternoon on Tuesday.

- John Burfisher, Medill News Service



Senate votes to begin debate on gun control

The Senate voted 68-31 to begin debate on a a gun-control bill Thursday, easily clearing the 60-vote threshold to beat back a Republican filibuster, The New York Times reports.

The bill would provide a major expansion of background checks conducted when buying a gun, among other things. While this vote does not guarantee the bill’s passage, it marks a giant step forward; senators from both parties helped the measure over its first major hurdle.

A bipartisan bill would might make it much easier for the public to stomach — the last time major gun legislation passed was in 1994, which included a ban on assault weapon and President Ronald Reagan actually supported.

Nonetheless, many political minds believe the ban contributed to the drubbing the Democrats took in the 1994 midterm elections, which gave the Republicans full control of Congress for the first time in 40 years. But some disagree with that notion.

In the late ’80s and early ’90s, Washington saw an astronomically high number of murders, topping 400 from 1989-‘93, according to The Disaster Center. Despite those numbers, many believe the Democrats overplayed their hand.

However, some insist Newtown changed the dynamic. Only time will tell. But, of course, a gun-control bill must make it to the president’s desk.

- Andrew Hedlund, Medill News Service



WASHINGTON — Lawmakers unveiled Tuesday a statue of civil rights legend Rosa Parks that will stand in National Statuary Hall.
Rosa Parks is famous for refusing to give up her seat to a white man on an Alabama public bus in 1955. She died in 2005 and became the first woman to lie in state in the U.S. Capitol rotunda.
"We celebrate a seamstress slight in stature but mighty in courage," President Barack Obama said. "She defied the odds. She defied injustice. In a single moment, with the simplest of gestures, she helped change America and change the world."
Obama was joined by House Speaker John Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, members of the Parks family and other top officials.
“May this statue long be at tribute to her strength and spirit, her legacy and her leadership,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said. 
Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., a civil rights leader, said the rights Parks fought for could be rolled back, referring to the Supreme Court case being heard today that could invalidate parts of the Voting Rights Act.
Parks was a symbol of the civil rights movement that reached its climax in the 1960s, when she collaborated with the NAACP and other famous figures like Martin Luther King Jr.
—Marshall Cohen

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers unveiled Tuesday a statue of civil rights legend Rosa Parks that will stand in National Statuary Hall.

Rosa Parks is famous for refusing to give up her seat to a white man on an Alabama public bus in 1955. She died in 2005 and became the first woman to lie in state in the U.S. Capitol rotunda.

"We celebrate a seamstress slight in stature but mighty in courage," President Barack Obama said. "She defied the odds. She defied injustice. In a single moment, with the simplest of gestures, she helped change America and change the world."

Obama was joined by House Speaker John Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, members of the Parks family and other top officials.

“May this statue long be at tribute to her strength and spirit, her legacy and her leadership,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said. 

Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., a civil rights leader, said the rights Parks fought for could be rolled back, referring to the Supreme Court case being heard today that could invalidate parts of the Voting Rights Act.

Parks was a symbol of the civil rights movement that reached its climax in the 1960s, when she collaborated with the NAACP and other famous figures like Martin Luther King Jr.

—Marshall Cohen



Democrats welcome most-diverse House caucus ever

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi welcomes diverse Democratic caucus

WASHINGTON—House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel welcomed new House Democrats Tuesday and celebrated the most-diverse caucus “in the history of civilized government.”

Pelosi and Israel were crowded onstage at a Capitol press conference by the 48 newly elected Democratic representatives. 

“This caucus is a picture of America,” Pelosi said.

For the first time, women and minorities make up more than half of either party’s caucus in either chamber. 

The 200 expected Democrats in the 113th Congress include 61 women, 43 African-Americans, 26 Hispanics, 11 Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders, Pelosi said.

In addition to the gender and racial diversity of the new Caucus, the first openly bisexual member of Congress, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, will join House Democrats in 2013.  Five other House Democrats are openly gay.

Sinema’s race was too close to call on election night, but her opponent, Vernon Parker, conceded Monday. 

Voters in California’s second district will be represented by the first Hindu member of the House, Tulsi Gabbard.

Despite the focus on diversity by Pelosi and Israel, a white male, Patrick Murphy of Florida, was chosen to represent the new members as the only other speaker at the event.  Murphy, 29, will be the youngest new member of Congress.

Though Republicans retained their majority in the House, Israel said he expects a net gain of seven Democrats in the chamber.

“With these new members, the Tea Party starts to roll back, and problem-solving can move forward,” Israel said.

He added that House Democrats were ready to work with Republicans but would not compromise core beliefs.

“We will work with Republicans to open more small businesses instead of shutting down more Planned Parenthoods.”

Pelosi recognized her party was still out of power in the House, but appeared buoyed by President Barack Obama’s reelection.

“We may not have a majority.  We may not have the gavel.  But we have unity,” Pelosi said.  “And with that unity, that consensus built to solve problems, to work with President Obama, we are ready to get to work.”

Pelosi declined to answer a question about her plans to continue as House Minority Leader, saying she would make an announcement Wednesday at 10 a.m.

— Jacob Fischler, Medill News Service



Bipartisan Conversation: Socializing key to respect?

Streaming webcasts. Open blogging. Live tweeting.

21st Century technologies that were used at the Brooking Institute’s Tuesday political discussion “Civil Conversations: Restoring Civility to the Debt Discussion.”

The audience, both live and on the web, were able to participate in the conversation between Democratic Senior Fellow Alice Rivlin and former Republican senator Pete Domenici about the country’s financial debt.

William Antholis, Brookings Institute managing director, was impressed by the digital turnout and “the overwhelming number of questions” from the live audience and the online audience, especially on Twitter.

Audience members were able to use the hash tag #CCP2012 to ask questions to the panelists during a Q & A forum.

Within the political atmosphere, Twitter has become an arena of expression, especially during the first presidential debate. Antholis said that Twitter is an excellent tool that allows members to seek out people and their connections in both political parties.

“By focusing on one or two figures, I see who follows them and who they follow,” Antholis said.  “That introduces me to networks I would not have been able to see otherwise.”

Chris Sopher, Knight Foundation Media Innovation program associate, agrees with Antholis and adds that a key part of engagement is having information available that’s easily accessible.  

“I think we see that all-over technology is effective,” Sopher said. “It’s not just Twitter by itself. It’s one piece but it’s opened up the potential for any one to comment.  It’s a low barrier to entry.”

Since anyone with an internet connection can sign on and start talking, arguments can occur that foster high negativity.  But Antholis doesn’t necessarily see this as a bad thing.

“It actually provides more transparent networking and the fact that somebody doesn’t have to agree to be your friend strengthens that rather than weakens.”

Economist Alice Rivlin said at the discussion Tuesday that if people get to know each other, no matter what side of the political spectrum they fall on, respect can be gained.

“People can disagree, but if they listen and respect each other they can work things out,” Rivlin said.

Twitter and other social media users will have another chance to jump on their computers to socialize about politics this Thursday with the much anticipated vice presidential debates. 

Michelle Salemi, Medill News Service 



The ‘war on women’ debate heated up again this week. Here’s a look at some of the latest ways Republicans and Democrats are campaigning for women’s issues this election cycle.




In a press conference this morning, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi criticized Republicans for wasting the House’s time on a vote to fully repeal the Affordable Care Act. Representatives are debating on the House floor now, and the final vote is expected this afternoon. The House has voted more than 30 times to repeal all or part of the law. 

- Elizabeth Bunn and Jenna Barnes, Medill News Service



A day for the Dems

WASHINGTON – It was a field of dreams for the Democrats.

Add a big “W” over the Republicans to the list of victories in Thursday night’s 51st CQ-Roll Call congressional baseball game.

Thursday morning, the Supreme Court upheld President Barack Obama’s controversial health care overhaul law. Democrats in both houses of Congress were cheering the court’s ruling most of the day.  So probably also put that in the “W” column. 

But, in the afternoon, Democrats faced a different kind of rebuke from their Republican colleagues. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi walked arm-in-arm out of the Capitol with Democratic leaders in protest of the vote of contempt against Attorney General Eric Holder in the Fast and Furious gun-running controversy.

By evening, the Democrats were smiling again, though. To round out the busy day in Washington, the Democrats scored 18 runs to the Republicans five, winning their fourth consecutive congressional baseball game.

“Look at this, huh? It feels good. It feels good,” said the Democrats’ manager, Rep. Michael Doyle from Pittsburgh. “We retired one last year for the best of five series. This is the first game in the next series, so three more of these or two more wins and we retire another one.”

Louisiana Rep. Cedric Richmond made it hard for the Republicans to connect with the ball.

“We knew that they had a really good pitcher who could throw the ball very fast for this level,” the Republican’s manager, Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, said after the game. “And we practiced for that. Last year we got only one hit. This year we got nine. So that’s an improvement,” Barton said.

But the Democrats did their part on offense, dominating the second inning to create a gap that the Republicans just couldn’t close.

“I was thinking that if we could score 20 runs I would be really happy,” he said smiling. “But I’ll just settle for the 11 we got!”

Pelosi made her way down to cheer on her fellow Democrats at the ballpark. During the Democrats’ at bats, Pelosi rooted on her team and took pictures with her fellow Dems and fans.

Money raised by the event will go toward the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Washington, and the Washington Literacy Center.

Fans cheering on the Democrats held up signs spelling out “MVP Justice Roberts” to show support of the Chief Justice John Robert’s deciding swing vote in the high court’s ruling  that upheld the president’s signature legislative victory.

Before the game, when asked if someone got hurt during the game would they have health insurance, Doyle laughed and said, “Yes, now they would have insurance. Everyone will.” 

— Malena Caruso/Medill News Service @mcaruso2