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“The Electoral Landscape Has Shifted”: Republicans May Finally Pay A Price For Towing NRA Line On Guns

Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy, who led an unusual talking filibuster this week to promote Democratic measures on guns, now wants to take the issue to the ballot box.  Here’s what he told Roll Call in an article published today:

“There has to be a storyline coming out of 2016 that shows that senators that voted against consensus measures like mandatory background checks pay a political price.”

Which sounds like standard political rhetoric — everyone says that the public will rise up and support them on their issues. But the crazy thing is, he might be right.

I don’t say this lightly — I’ve been writing about the gun issue for years, and though I’ve long argued that the the NRA’s power to punish its enemies and reward its friends at the ballot box is a myth, it’s extremely rare for Republicans to actually lose elections because of the gun issue. But a confluence of events and critical timing could make 2016 different. Most surprising of all, there’s even a remote but real possibility that Congress could pass a gun control measure in 2017.

In the wake of the shooting in Orlando, Democrats are now pushing two separate ideas, both of which have failed to make it through Congress before. The first would make it easier for the federal government to stop gun sales to those who have been investigated for terrorism, which we’re going to put aside for the moment. The second proposal is universal background checks, which would extend those checks to private sales that today don’t require them, closing the “private seller loophole.”

It’s long been a source of wonder that in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre when 20 elementary school children were gunned down, and with polls showing support for the measure running at 90 percent (including huge majorities of gun owners), Congress still couldn’t pass universal background checks. If it didn’t happen then, why could it happen now? The answer is that timing is everything.

The Sandy Hook massacre took place in December of 2012. When Congress began to debate the Manchin-Toomey bill that included background checks, it was 2013. The election to which lawmakers were looking forward was the 2014 off-year election. Everyone knew that, with a Democratic president, it was going to be another big year for Republicans, since their voters are more likely to turn out in non-presidential years than Democratic voters are. So one of the big questions was how vulnerable Democrats from Republican-leaning states, who had been elected in the 2008 Obama wave, were going to vote.

In the end, the bill had a 54-46 majority, not enough to overcome the Republicans’ filibuster. Among the Democrats who voted for it were Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, both of whom lost their re-election bids that November. Four Democrats opposed it: the retiring Max Baucus, Mark Begich of Alaska, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, and Heidi Heitkamp of South Dakota. Begich and Pryor lost that year, too, while Heitkamp isn’t up for reelection until 2018. And on the Republican side, only Pat Toomey (the bill’s co-sponsor), John McCain, Susan Collins, and Mark Kirk voted in favor.

It’s unclear exactly how much of an impact their votes had on the campaigns of Hagan, Landrieu, Begich, and Pryor. But you can bet that facing an electorate they knew was going to be stacked against them, the vote weighed on their minds.

Now let’s think about the current environment. The senators up for re-election this year came into office in the tea party wave of 2010, which is why Republicans are defending many more seats than Democrats. The most vulnerable Republicans are those from Democratic-leaning states, who now have to face a presidential-year electorate that will be much more tilted to Democratic voters than it was when they got elected the first time. They’ll also be carrying the weight of their party’s presidential nominee behind them.

Those vulnerable senators are the following, in rough order of how likely they already are to lose in November: Mark Kirk (IL), Ron Johnson (WI), Kelly Ayotte (NH), Rob Portman (OH), and Pat Toomey (PA). If Marco Rubio decides to run again, you can put him in there too. Ayotte, Johnson, and Portman all voted against the Manchin-Toomey bill in 2013. Do you think their Democratic opponents are going to make an issue out of that? Oh yes they will.

In fact, even before Orlando, Ayotte was running ads claiming to be a background check supporter, when what she actually backed was an NRA-approved alternative to Manchin-Toomey, one that was about as meaningful as you’d expect. Portman now says he’s open to restricting sales to people probed for terrorism, but his campaign web site goes on in some length about his opposition to universal background checks. Johnson has suggested there might be a possible compromise on gun sales and the terror watch list, but he hasn’t changed his position on background checks, so there will be plenty of opportunities for Democrats to criticize him on that. Kirk is almost certain to lose anyway.

And Pat Toomey? Well, if Toomey does survive when other Republicans lose, many people will say that his high-profile advocacy for background checks was an important reason. If you combine that with defeats of other Republicans, you could see an entirely new conventional wisdom take shape, one that says that the electoral landscape on guns has shifted. Now it’s Republicans who are on the defensive, because of their doctrinaire opposition to even measures that nine out of ten Americans support.

There is a scenario in which even the NRA’s lock on Congress — which, unlike their alleged electoral potency, is real — could be broken. It’s possible (even if it’s a longshot) that the Democrats could take control of the House in an anti-Trump sweep to go with their (much more likely) win in the Senate. Passing something like background checks would require overcoming a filibuster, which is not likely at all. But it’s also possible that, in the face of broad and increasingly maddening filibuster abuse, Democrats could decide to get rid of the procedure altogether. That would be a momentous move, but it isn’t out of the question. And if they did, they could pass a background check bill for President Hillary Clinton to sign.

Yes, a lot of pieces would have to fall into place for that to happen. But even if it doesn’t, chances are we’ll come out of this election with a bunch of senators having paid a price for their alliance with the NRA, and everyone will know it. That in itself would be a major change.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, June 17, 2016

June 20, 2016 Posted by | Background Checks, Gun Control, National Rifle Association, Senate Republicans | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Bygone Era”: All Politics Aren’t Local Anymore

Sometimes changes that affect our politics are subtle and therefore, easily missed. Paul Kane has identified how one of those changes is affecting members of the Senate who are running for re-election.

After nearly 12 years in the Senate, North Carolina Republican Richard Burr holds a dubious distinction: a lot of people in his home state don’t know if he’s any good at his job…

Burr is not alone among potentially vulnerable incumbents with low name recognition in key states that will decide which party controls the Senate in 2017. Of the 25 least known senators, ten are running for re-election — nine of them Republican — as relative unknowns, with roughly 30 percent of their voters unable to form an opinion of them. That list includes Sens. Rob Portman (Ohio), Mark Kirk (Ill.) and Pat Toomey (Pa.).

Kane suggests that the reason these incumbents are so unknown among their constituents is that partisans tend to get their news from ideologically driven outlets while local news has all but disappeared.

Overall, there are more reporters covering Congress than ever, except they increasingly write for inside Washington publications whose readers are lawmakers, lobbyists and Wall Street investors. A Pew Research Center study released earlier this year found that at least 21 states do not have a single dedicated reporter covering Congress.

That is a story John Heltman wrote about here at the Washington Monthly in an article for the Nov/Dec 2015 edition titled: Confessions of a Paywall Journalist.

Kane goes on to talk about the two options Senators have used to overcome this lack of name recognition. First of all – money talks.

“We go six years with no coverage,” Burr said in an interview this week, lamenting the fading interest in his state’s congressional delegation. “So it’s like you weren’t here for six years. Your name ID drops into the 40s.” Run $5 million in ads, he said, “it pops right back up to the 80s.”

Secondly, “iconoclasts stand out.”

After little more than three years in elected office, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has reached near saturation level with Bay State voters, with just 12 percent having no opinion of the liberal firebrand. Meanwhile, Sen. Ed Markey (D) — an institution in Massachusetts politics after 37 years in the House and three in the Senate — does not register with 30 percent of his constituents.

It’s the same dynamic in Texas with the state’s two Republican senators. Ted Cruz — an erstwhile conservative presidential contender — has held elective office not even three-and-a-half years, yet all but 14 percent of his voters have a strong view of him. A third of Texans cannot form a view of John Cornyn, the Republican whip with nearly 14 years in the Senate who is likely to be the next GOP floor leader.

That points to two disturbing trends we’ve all been watching lately in politics – the influence of big money and the rise of show horses over work horses. Jonathan Bernstein picked up on all of this and suggests that it also fuels partisan gridlock.

I don’t know how much the changes in media coverage caused the atrophy of the committee system and Congress’s ability to do its job. But it’s easy to see how rank-and-file members have fewer incentives to be productive, and more incentives to merely vote with their party’s leadership and do little else.

All of this focuses on how the lack of a vibrant local press affects incumbents in the Senate. One can only assume that it poses an even greater challenge for members of the House. Finally, it explains a lot about why we have tended towards an “imperial presidency” and the lack of voter participation in midterm elections. For years we’ve been hearing that famous line from Tip O’Neill who said, “All Politics is local.” That might be relegated to a bygone era.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, June 1, 2016

June 1, 2016 Posted by | Political Media, Politics, Senate | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Best Of Their Options”: Why Republicans Might Actually Put Merrick Garland On The Supreme Court

Today President Obama announced that Merrick Garland is his nominee to fill the seat of the late Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court. This pick is something of a surprise, given Garland’s reputation as a moderate, and most importantly, his age — Garland is 63, meaning he would likely spend only 10 or 15 years on the Court if he is confirmed.

Of course, he may not be confirmed, since Republicans have made clear that they will refuse to hold hearings or votes on any nominee Obama offers, and have said they’ll even refuse to meet the the nominee. Mitch McConnell reiterated that again today. So there’s a clear political strategy behind this nomination on the White House’s part.

But there’s also a way in which Garland could end up actually making it to the Court — not because the White House managed to outmaneuver Republicans, but because they decided that confirming him was the best of their options.

First, let’s look at the White House’s thinking. Of course they’re going to say that this decision was made purely on Garland’s merits, and politics never entered in to it, that Garland was picked because he’s eminently qualified, and he’s well-respected by both Democrats and Republicans. Garland may have all the admirable qualities Obama spoke of today, but it’s also true that he is the hardest pick for Republicans to oppose. He’s probably the most moderate of the names that were mentioned, and when you combine that with his age (and the fact that he’s a white man), Republicans won’t be able to say that Obama is trying to appoint some radical leftist who will pull the Court far to the left for the next 30 or 40 years.

That means that Garland is the one whose appointment most clearly portrays Republicans as obstructionists when they refuse to consider him. That will not only help Hillary Clinton when she argues that Republicans are unreasonable and irresponsible, but it will also put some vulnerable Senate Republicans in uncomfortable positions, particularly Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Mark Kirk of Illinois, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, all of whom face tough challenges in the fall. So while it may not have a transformative effect on the election, Garland’s nomination could, at least by a bit, increase the chances both that Clinton is elected president and that Democrats will be able to take back the Senate.

The White House is also probably assuming that Republicans will oppose Garland, as they’ve promised. Garland has already had a full career and this is doubtless his last opportunity to ascend to the Supreme Court, so he may have been more willing than other potential nominees to go through this process, with the small chance that he will actually be confirmed.

But might he actually be confirmed? The answer is yes. Here’s how it might happen:

1. Hillary Clinton wins in November. Given that Donald Trump looks like he will be the nominee of the Republican Party, this looks like a strong possibility.

2. Democrats take back the Senate. Democrats need a net gain of four seats in order to get to 50, which was about an even bet before; with Trump leading the Republicans, that looks even more likely.

 3. Democratic Senate leaders consider eliminating the filibuster for Supreme Court nominations. If Clinton were to win, Republicans could decide that they can live with an eight-member Supreme Court for four years, and simply refuse to confirm any Clinton nominee. If they do that, and if Democrats gain a majority, the Democrats would almost certainly get fed up enough to just take the final step and eliminate the filibuster for those nominations (they already eliminated filibusters for lower-court nominations in 2013). Indeed, they’re already considering it.

4. Republicans return after the election and confirm Garland. If Clinton wins and Democrats take the Senate, Republicans will face a choice between Garland and whoever Clinton would nominate — and that person would probably be more liberal, and far younger. So Garland, a moderate who might only spend 10 or 15 years on the Court, would suddenly look like easily the best option. So before the next Senate takes office in January, Republicans would quickly confirm Garland and cut their losses.

Liberals are reacting with a decided lack of enthusiasm over Garland’s nomination, both because of his moderation and his age. For them, the best of all scenarios is that Garland’s nomination flounders, Hillary Clinton gets elected, and appoints a younger and more liberal justice. They might get their wish — if Republicans don’t figure out what’s most in their interests first.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, March 16, 2016

March 20, 2016 Posted by | Merrick Garland, Mitch Mc Connell, Senate Republicans, U. S. Supreme Court Nominees | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Fulfilling Their Constitutional Duties”: On SCOTUS, Pressure Falls On Endangered GOP Senators

All corners of the Republican Party have made themselves very clear: they intend to, in Donald Trump’s words, “delay, delay, delay” the confirmation of Antonin Scalia’s replacement on the Supreme Court until after the 2016 election. Ted Cruz has signaled his intention to lead a blockade, and Mitch McConnell intends to run a blockade.

All of this would be unprecedented, despite conservative protestations to the contrary. Conventional wisdom seems to suggest that McConnell can hold the Supreme Court nomination hostage for the whole year. But is that true?

It’s not necessary for the entire GOP to confirm the nominee. It only requires a few GOP Senators to join with the Democrats to fulfill their Constitutional duties. And as it turns out, there are quite a few Republican Senators in blue states who would be pilloried as intransigent obstructionists if they refused to confirm commonsense consensus nominees.

Among these Senators would be Senator Mark Kirk in Illinois, who is already Democrats’ primary target for a Senate takeover. Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson is less ideologically likely to cross the aisle, but with Russ Feingold already seeming likely to defeat him in November, it’s not clear that Johnson can afford to give Democrats yet another cudgel with which to attack him. The same goes for Senator Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire, Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania and Rob Portman in Ohio.

President Obama will certainly nominate a number of popular, reasonable and consensus nominees, from recently confirmed Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Sri Srinivasan. With each attempted and withdrawn nomination the Republican Party would look worse as a whole, but the careers of the specifically imperiled Senators would be particularly threatened–and with them the Republican Senate majority itself.

Will Ayotte, Kirk and their colleagues kowtow to McConnell and Cruz and likely eliminate their ability to hold their seats, or will they do the right thing, perform their constitutional duty and protect their Senate careers?

Time will tell.

 

By: David Atkins, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, February 14, 2016

February 14, 2016 Posted by | GOP, Mitch Mc Connell, Senate Republicans, U. S. Supreme Court | , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“Ted Cruz’s Super Stingy Sugar Daddies”: Cruz’s Own Super PAC Hedging Against Him

Ted Cruz’s coterie of supportive super PACs are crawling with cash—but it’s not doing him much good at the moment.

The Republican presidential contender, a first-term senator from Texas, has an unusual network of super PACs in place to boost his White House prospects. Instead of giving his imprimatur to one main super PAC, which is the norm, Cruz has four officially sanctioned super PACs: Keep the Promise PAC, Keep the Promise I, Keep the Promise II, and Keep the Promise III. National Review reported that this set-up is designed to give individual billionaires and their families maximal control over how their cash gets spent.

And there’s the rub. FEC filings show that those four PACs, combined, have taken in a healthy $39 million—but only spent a teeny tiny little fraction of that on the senator’s presidential efforts. And one of the PACs actually donated to one of Cruz’s 2016 rivals.

This news comes as Cruz faces lackluster poll numbers and less than a week before the first GOP debate. RealClearPolitics’ average gives him just 5.2 percent of the vote, lagging behind fellow conservative firebrands Rand Paul and Ben Carson. And a recent Fox News poll showed his support among likely Republican primary voters got cut in half since mid-March—from 10 percent to just 4 percent.

And while Cruz’s PACs have kept their powder dry, other 2016 contenders’ backers are spending big. The Conservative Solutions Project spent seven figures on TV ads touting Sen. Marco Rubio’s record on Iran, per the Tampa Bay Times. And, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer, the John Kasich-backing New Day for America has already spent $1.7 million blanketing New Hampshire televisions with ads touting the Ohio governor’s record.

Candidates who aren’t running for president are getting similar boosts; Pat Toomey, a vulnerable Republican senator in Pennsylvania, is benefitting from a $1.5 million TV, direct mail, and digital video ad campaign from Concerned Veterans for America.

But Ted Cruz doesn’t seem to be getting that kind of love. And in his home state, it’s raised a few eyebrows.

“Are these people really planning to spend this money?” queried one Texas Republican insider, adding that he thought the super PACs’ gun-shy approach to spending was “bizarre.”

So while Cruz has made a host of positive headlines for the cash that his supporting super PACs have raked in, he doesn’t actually seem to have benefitted much from their largesse.

First off, there’s Keep the Promise I, a PAC that gets the bulk of its cash from billionaire investor Robert Mercer. In this quarter of the year, the PAC took in more than $11 million and spent only $536,169.90. The kicker? Of that $536,169.90, a sweet five hundred grand went to a super PAC backing Carly Fiorina—who, of course, is also running for president. Against Cruz.

CNN, which first reported on Carly’s PAC’s money, called the contribution “unusual,” which is certainly a nice way to put it. Of the remaining $36,000 that the PAC spent, $20,000 went to a D.C.-based polling company. The remaining $16,169.90 went to Bracewell and Giuliani LLP for legal consulting. So from April through July of this year, the biggest benefactor of a putatively pro-Cruz super PAC was Carly Fiorina.

“It’s Cruz’s own super PAC hedging against him before the first debate,” said the Republican insider.

Then there’s Keep the Promise II—funded solely by a $10 million donation from Toby Neugebauer, son of Rep. Randy Neugebauer—and Keep the Promise III, funded by the fracking-enriched Wilks family. Those two PACs, combined, raised $25 million this quarter. Keep the Promise II didn’t spend anything, and Keep the Promise III spent just $5,025.

Finally, there’s the Keep the Promise PAC, which doesn’t appear to be dominated by one major donor or donor family. It brought in a comparatively modest $1.8 million this quarter and spent about $97,000. Most of that went to covering legal fees, software, and media production. The PAC also spent $1,698.39 at an Austin Apple Store on a computer. This all means that while this PAC looks like it’s been busier than the other three, it’s still not doing a whole lot.

Cruz’s atypical super PAC situation was designed to give donors more control over how their money got spent. But no one anticipated that these donors would be so stingy—except when it comes to boosting a Cruz competitor.

 

By: Betsy Woodruff, The Daily Beast, July 31, 2015

August 3, 2015 Posted by | Carly Fiorina, Super PAC's, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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