The first couple used last week's commencement speeches to push personal responsibility in the black community. NBC's Shawna Thomas reports.
WASHINGTON – This past Sunday while in Atlanta speaking at the Morehouse College commencement, President Barack Obama used one of his powers that is not diminished by the controversies swirling around the White House: the power of the bully pulpit.
In a speech at the historically black, all-male college, the president delivered some tough love to the 500 or so black men seated in front of him.
First, he heaped praise on the class of 2013. “Your generation is uniquely poised for success unlike any generation of African Americans that came before it,” he said.
But then he said they – and others in the black community -- needed to keep striving for more and used himself as an example.
“We know that too many young men in our community continue to make bad choices,” the president said. “And I have to say, growing up, I made quite a few myself. Sometimes I wrote off my own failings as just another example of the world trying to keep a black man down. … But one of the things that all of you have learned over the last four years is there's no longer any room for excuses.”
This message of empowerment, delivered directly to the black community, is not a new theme for this president; it’s just the latest iteration of the effort.
In 2008, while first campaigning for the presidency, then-Sen. Obama said this during a Father’s Day speech at a church in Chicago: “There's a reason why our families are in disrepair and some of it has to do with a tragic history, but we can't keep on using that as an excuse.”
It’s clear that Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama have realized that even as the president has to face tough questions about mismanagement at the Internal Revenue Service and resources at diplomatic facilities around the world, they can still use their notoriety to encourage blacks to help themselves.
And, in the last week, it seemed like a coordinated effort by the First Couple to push this message. On Friday, the first lady got into the act while speaking at another historically black university in Maryland, Bowie State University.
“We need to once again fight to educate ourselves and our children like our lives depend on it,” she said, “because they do.”
And she paraphrased this line her husband used back in 2004 when he spoke at the Democratic National Convention: “Children can't achieve unless we raise their expectations and turn off the television sets and eradicate the slander that says a black youth with a book is acting white."
Even if Washington can’t get anything done, it seems both the president and the first lady are determined – with just three years to go until they leave the White House -- not only to inspire, but to inform. By deliberately choosing to speak at historically black universities, they force a light to be shined on these places that represent some of the best of the African-American community.
President Obama usually includes specific references to the stories of graduates in the audience during commencement speeches and Sunday’s was no different.
“When Leland Shelton was 4-years-old, social services took him away from his mama, put him in the care of his grandparents,” Obama said. “By age 14, he was in the foster care system. Three years after that, Leland enrolled in Morehouse. And today he is graduating Phi Beta Kappa on his way to Harvard Law School.”
The words are important, but what was captured on video was a teary Leland Shelton surrounded by his capped-and-gowned Morehouse brothers cheering him on.
The importance of cameras capturing African Americans celebrating education and beaming that around the world is not lost on this First Couple, and it’s one of the goals of these speeches. The other goal: to make sure everybody, but particularly African Americans, keep striving for excellence and helping each other succeed in a world that is still full of challenges.
Yes, the last two weeks haven't been kind to the Obama White House. Yes, the administration has found itself on the defensive -- regarding the IRS, Benghazi and leak-investigation controversies. And, yes, those stories aren't going way.
But it's also unclear if these controversies are political winners for the Republican Party.
In addition to new polls showing that President Obama's approval rating remains above 50 percent after these stories first surfaced, a Washington Post/ABC survey suggests that Republicans are suffering from a focus deficit.
According to the poll, just 33 percent of Americans believe congressional Republicans are mainly concentrating on matters that are personally important to them, while 60 percent say they aren’t.
By comparison, 51 percent say Obama is mainly focusing on things important to them, versus 44 percent who disagree -- matching his approval rating in the poll
And 43 percent of respondents think congressional Democrats are concentrating on matters of importance, compared with 50 percent who say they're not.
Bottom line: The public believes that Obama and the Democrats are focusing more on the issues they care about than Republicans are.
Conservative writer Ramesh Ponnuru reaches a similar conclusion in his latest column.
[Republicans] have no real health-care agenda. Voters don’t trust them to look out for middle-class economic interests. Republicans are confused and divided about how to solve the party’s problems. What they can do is unite in opposition to the Obama administration’s scandals and mistakes. So that’s what they’re doing. They’re trying to win news cycles when they need votes.
Congressional Republicans were right to press for hearings on all of these issues. But investigations of the administration won’t supply them with ideas. They won’t make the public trust Republicans. They won’t save them from themselves.
But at what point do [Republicans] decide that maybe voters might be more interested in other issues or worries than about politicians on one side pointing fingers and throwing allegations at those on the other side?
Yet a problem for Republicans -- if they decide to turn their attention to other issues -- is that Republicans really care about these controversies.
According to a separate Pew poll, 37 percent of Republicans are following the IRS story very closely (compared with 21 percent of Democrats and 25 percent of independents), while 34 percent of Republicans are following the Benghazi investigation closely (versus 18 percent of Democrats and 26 of indies).
So Republicans might find themselves trapped in this box: They really want to focus on these controversies, and their voters do, too. But others want the GOP to concentrate their attention elsewhere.
U.S. senators of both parties directed outrage at top IRS officials over not being informed earlier as to the tax agency’s work to target conservatives and demanded answers Tuesday as to why action was not taken more quickly to halt the abuses.
Senators voiced their dismay at the IRS leadership’s efforts to respond to indications that officials in the agency’s Cincinnati office had singled out conservative and Tea Party advocacy that had applied for tax-exempt status.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont. demanded to know, “Why wasn't more firm action taken by people, either the commissioner himself or by people at the top? It's outrageous. Any person can figure out this is unacceptable conduct.”
Members of the U.S. Senate ask Acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller about his knowledge of the department's alleged targeting of political groups.
Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, the ranking Republican, said there was no doubt the episode constitutes a “scandal,” saying it “undermines Americans' trust that their government will enforce the law without regard for political beliefs or party affiliation.”
A former IRS commissioner who presided over most of the time in which the IRS targeted conservatives, Douglas Shulman, told members of the committee that he was not aware of the full facts surrounding the abuses until earlier this month.
And Steven Miller, the acting IRS commissioner who resigned from that position last week, took responsibility for the controversial manner in which the IRS sought to first publicize the agency’s abuses ahead of the release of an inspector general report on the matter. Miller said he was responsible for a plot to plant a question for an IRS official, Lois Lerner, at an American Bar Association panel discussion to allow her to publicly reveal the IRS targeting.
“Obviously, the entire thing was an incredibly bad idea,” said Miller about the strategy, explaining that the IRS had failed to follow through with its plan to simultaneously brief Capitol Hill about the forthcoming report.
Those revelations hardly comforted Democratic or Republican senators alike, whose hearing marked the second official inquiry into the IRS controversy. Baucus openly wondered why IRS employees who engaged in or oversaw the abuses were not fired.
Senator John Cornyn, R-Texas, asks former IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman if he would offer an apology to the lawmaker's constituents over alleged targeting of political groups.
The revelations about the work by IRS officials to single out conservatives have become enmeshed with partisan politics. Though President Barack Obama has condemned the abuses and vowed to cooperate with congressional investigations into the matter, that has hardly silenced Republicans’ criticism of the controversy.
The GOP has focused heavily on the question of when Obama was made aware of the IRS’s practices, and whether he should have been briefed on the matter sooner. A hearing last week found that senior Treasury Department officials were notified of the existence of the investigation as early as last summer. And White House press secretary Jay Carney disclosed Monday that the White House counsel, Kathy Ruemmler, was notified of the details of the forthcoming report in late April. She, in turn, briefed White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough and other senior officials, though they decided against personally briefing Obama.
But much of senators’ ire on Tuesday focused on the IRS leadership’s awareness of the singling out of conservatives as it unfolded, and their disclosure of those abuses to Congress during the subsequent investigation.
Shulman defended his performance by explaining that he did not know the full facts of the inspector general’s findings. He said he found out sometime during the spring of 2012 that there was a list including the word “Tea Party” being used by the officials in the tax-exempt office. But Shulman maintained he did not know what other words were on that list, nor was he aware of the severity or scope of the abuses.
Gary Cameron / Reuters
Senator Max Baucus, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and Senator Orrin Hatch, the ranking Republican, confer during testimony in Washington May 21, 2013.
“When I left, the I.G. was looking into this to gather all of the facts,” he said. “I've now had the benefit of reading the report and that's the full accounting of facts that I have at this point.”
Republicans voiced outrage that no IRS official had disclosed their awareness of potential abuses or an investigation into the controversy during lawmakers’ efforts to get answers to that very question during the past few years.
“That is a lie by omission and you kept it from the people who are required to oversee this matter,” Hatch angrily told Miller, the outgoing IRS chief who had declined to previously reveal the IRS targeting.
This story was originally published on Tue May 21, 2013 12:15 PM EDT
Exactly one year ago today, President Obama was focused on trying to help a community heal from a massive tornado that killed dozens when he spoke at a high school commencement in Joplin, Mo.
Joplin, like Moore, Okla., Monday, was leveled by a tornado in late May of 2011.
Now, the president is once again dealing with a tragedy, at its infancy. The pictures from the tornado in Oklahoma are eerily similar to those in Joplin, and presidents in these times are expected to comfort.
“You will not travel that path alone; your country will travel it with you," Obama said Tuesday at the White House. He also noted the “enormous grief that has to be absorbed. Our prayers are with the people of Oklahoma, and we will back up those prayers with deeds for as long as it takes.”
Almost two years ago to the day, President Obama traveled to Joplin where he spoke at a memorial service for those killed. The president mentioned Joplin twice in his remarks at the White House.
“How we respond when the storm strikes is up to us. How we live in the aftermath of tragedy and heartache, that’s within our control,” he said in Joplin in 2011. “And it’s in these moments, through our actions, that we often see the glimpse of what makes life worth living in the first place. In the last week, that’s what Joplin has not just taught Missouri, not just taught America, but has taught the world.”
A year later, Obama was back in Joplin speaking at the high school commencement with a similar, but slightly different message, one expressing pride in Joplin’s resilience. To reinforce that, he used the phrase, “You’re from Joplin,” six times.
“The job of a commencement speaker primarily is to keep it short,” Obama said, before adding, “The other job is to inspire. But as I look out at this class, and across this city, what’s clear is that you’re the source of inspiration today. To me. To this state. To this country. And to people all over the world.”
He continued: “By now, I expect that most of you have probably relived those 32 minutes again and again. Where you were. What you saw. When you knew for sure that it was over. The first contact, the first phone call you had with somebody you loved, the first day that you woke up in a world that would never be the same. And yet, the story of Joplin isn’t just what happened that day. It’s the story of what happened the next day. And the day after that. And all the days and weeks and months that followed.”
And like in the aftermaths of other tragedies, the president quoted scripture.
“We can define our lives not by what happens to us, but by how we respond,” Obama said. “We can choose to carry on. We can choose to make a difference in the world. And in doing so, we can make true what’s written in Scripture -- that ‘tribulation produces perseverance, and perseverance, character, and character, hope.’ Of all that’s come from this tragedy, let this be the central lesson that guides us, let it be the lesson that sustains you through whatever challenges lie ahead.”
And that will inevitably be the challenge in Oklahoma.
"What they can be certain of is that Americans from every corner of this country will be right there with them, opening our homes, our hearts to those in need," Obama said Tuesday in his remarks at the White House. "Because we're a nation that stands with our fellow citizens as long as it takes. We've seen that spirit in Joplin, in Tuscaloosa; we saw that spirit in Boston and Breezy Point. And that’s what the people of Oklahoma are going to need from us right now."
He added, “The people of Moore should know your country will remain on the ground, there for them,” Obama said, “beside them for as long as it takes.”
Also read: A timeline of other Obama tragedy speeches.
President Barack Obama pledged the full resources of the U.S. government to assist the community of Moore, Okla., in its recovery following devastating tornadoes that hit the town on Monday.
“The people of Moore should know that their country will remain on the ground -- for them, beside them -- for as long as it takes,” Obama said in a statement Tuesday morning at the White House, calling the storm “one of the most destructive tornadoes in history.” Obama said the prayers of the nation are with the people of Oklahoma, adding “as a nation, our full focus right now is on the urgent work of rescue, and the hard work of recovery and rebuilding that lies ahead.”
President Obama delivered a statement on the Oklahoma tornado tragedy that killed dozens in Moore, telling residents that "their country will remain on the ground there for them, beside them as long as it takes."
Noting that process will be long, the president assured that those affected “will not travel that path alone, your country will travel it with you.”
The president said that he had spoken with Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, R, to coordinate the federal government’s assistance to Moore, and had dispatched FEMA Director Craig Fugate to Oklahoma. Obama also signed a disaster declaration on Monday evening opening avenues for federal assistance to those affected by the hurricane.
Moore, a town which had also suffered a serious tornado in 1999, was damaged heavily during last night’s storm. The president said that it was too early to assess the extent of the damage, death and injuries.
“But if there is hope to hold on to, not just in Oklahoma but around the country, it's the knowledge that the good people there and in Oklahoma are better prepared for this type of storm than most. And what they can be certain of is that Americans from every corner of this country will be right there with them, opening our homes, our hearts to those in need. Because we're a nation that stands with our fellow citizens as long as it takes.”
Obama urged Americans who are interested in helping the tornado victims to donate to the American Red Cross, which he said is already on the ground in Moore.
Oklahoma disaster puts current Washington politics into perspective… Obama delivers statement on tragedy at 10:00 am ET… That said, there will be an inevitable fight over disaster relief… Three polls, three matters of consensus on the three controversies hitting the Obama administration… 1) The public believes there was wrongdoing; 2) that hasn’t affected Obama’s political standing; and 3) there’s a huge partisan divide… Senate Finance Committee holds IRS hearing at 10:00 am ET… Conservatives come out against immigration reform… And two stories to watch in tonight’s LA mayoral run-off.
Gene Blevins / Reuters
People walk near destroyed buildings and vehicles after a tornado struck Moore, Okla., near Oklahoma City, May 20, 2013.
*** Putting things into perspective: The massive and powerful tornado that ripped through Moore, OK on Monday afternoon puts so much of Washington’s focus over the past two weeks -- on the IRS, Benghazi, and the leak investigations -- into perspective. Oklahoma officials, for now, have put the death toll at 51 individuals (at least 20 of whom are children). “To me, this is bigger than anything I’ve ever seen,” Gov. Mary Fallin (R) said on “TODAY” this morning, and she added that includes past tornados and the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. (This is an area of the country that has seen its share of destruction over the last 20 years.) President Obama, who already signed a disaster declaration for Oklahoma, delivers a statement around 10:00 am ET on the devastation, per NBC’s Kristen Welker. And the politics of disaster relief and federal assistance has already made an appearance. Yes, there are still legitimate questions to ask regarding the three controversies facing the Obama administration. And, yes, those stories aren’t going away (in fact, the Senate Finance Committee holds a hearing at 10:00 am ET on the IRS’s targeting of conservative-sounding organizations filing for tax-exempt status). But right now, they take a pause.
*** The inevitable battle over disaster relief: Given the previous fight over federal-relief funding after Hurricane Sandy, it was inevitable that the politicization of this Oklahoma disaster would take place. And it has already begun. CQ Roll Call: “The tornado damage near Oklahoma City is still being assessed and the death toll is expected to rise, but already Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., says he will insist that any federal disaster aid be paid for with cuts elsewhere. CQ Roll Call reporter Jennifer Scholtes wrote for CQ.com Monday evening that Coburn said he would ‘absolutely’ demand offsets for any federal aid that Congress provides.” Coburn’s position is consistent with his vote on Sandy relief -- he voted no on federal funding late last year, as did Oklahoma’s other senator, James Inhofe. And three of the state’s five congressmen voted no, too (Bridenstine, Mullin, Lankford), while the other two voted for the relief (Cole, Lucas). Keep an eye on Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) in this. He has been a bridge between the establishment and conservatives on issues like Sandy relief and the fiscal cliff. He’s got a lot of credibility with a bipartisan swath of members, and he may end up having to do a lot of political legwork to de-politicize this issue.
*** Three polls, three matters of consensus: Turning to the controversies facing the Obama administration, we now have the results from three different polls (CNN, Pew, WaPo/ABC) released in the last 36 hours. And they provide a consensus on three different stories. One, the public believes there was wrongdoing by the IRS and in the aftermath of the Benghazi attack. Two, this belief of wrongdoing hasn’t affected President Obama’s standing (WaPo/ABC has his approval rating at 51%; CNN has it as 53%). A big reason why is the economy: “For the first time since the 100-day mark of Obama’s first term, most say they are optimistic about the direction of the economy. More than half, 56 percent, say the economy is on the mend, the most to say so in polls since 2009,” the Washington Post writes. And three, there is a HUGE partisan divide when it comes to these controversies. According to the Pew poll, 37% of Republicans are following the IRS story very closely (compared with 21% of Democrats and 25% of indies), while 34% of Republicans are following the Benghazi investigation closely (versus 18% of Democrats and 26% of indies). As Pew adds, this level of interest and partisan divide is consistent with past controversies impacting the George W. Bush and Clinton administration; the folks out of power who didn’t like the president in office were always more interested in these controversies. The one exception: The Lewinsky sex scandal, which had more people paying closer attention and almost no partisan divide.
*** Senate Finance Committee holds IRS hearing: As mentioned above, the Senate Finance Committee holds a hearing on the IRS story at 10:00 am, and the witnesses are outgoing IRS Acting Commissioner Steven Miller, former Commissioner Douglas Shulman, and the inspector general. Given the tragedy in Oklahoma -- and given the president’s remarks around the same time -- this hearing won’t receive the attention it might have. But the Obama White House had it rough yesterday when it dribbled out new information about who knew of the inspector general’s report and when they knew about it. Make no mistake: It’s over something that’s relatively small, when (and who inside) the White House was given a heads up about the IG audit -- after all, there was little the White House could do with the report -- but it made the White House seem not very forthcoming with the press. The White House is acting as if it has a bunker mentality; it’s only dribbling out information if extracted with a specific question. And it’s giving off an impression staffers have more to hide.
*** Bunker mentality and not telling the president: Then there’s the issue that many members of the senior team in the White House knew about the report without telling the president. While it’s understandable they want the president to have plausible deniability about what he knows in the case of an IG report, it feeds the perception that the president is not very hands-on right now. Yes, it’s damned if they do, damned if they don’t -- which is probably why it’s imperative they begin to own these controversies on their terms.
*** Conservatives come out against immigration reform: Per NBC’s Carrie Dann, “Several prominent conservative media figures are backing a new effort by groups who oppose bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform, signaling growing willingness from conservative outlets to marshal their audiences against the bill. Signatories on a new open letter to Congress titled ‘The Wrong Way to Reform Immigration” include RedState editor Erick Erickson, radio hosts Laura Ingraham and Mark Levin, and columnist Michelle Malkin. ‘No matter how well intentioned, the Schumer-Rubio bill suffers from fundamental design flaws that make it unsalvageable,’ the letter states. ‘Many of us support various parts of the legislation, but the overall package is so unsatisfactory that the Senate would do better to start over from scratch.’”
*** Two stories to watch in today’s LA mayoral run-off: And there are two stories to watch in today’s run-off contest for LA mayor between City Controller Wendy Greuel (D) and City Councilman Eric Garcetti (D). The first is that Greuel COULD become the city’s first female mayor, although polls (here and here) have shown that Garcetti has a slight lead. The second story is the expected low turnout. As Jessica Taylor writes, "[T]he runoff race between two Democratic candidates isn’t drawing much interest as turnout could reach a record low despite the more than $33 million that’s been spent on the nearly two year-long contest to succeed outgoing Mayor Anthony Villagarosa." In fact, just 21% turned out in the first round of voting. Now this could just be LA being LA, but the low turnout might be something to keep an eye on. Polls close at 11:00 pm ET.
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*** Tuesday’s “Jansing & Co.” line-up: MSNBC’s Chris Jansing anchors live from Moore, OK and her guests include: Mayor Glenn Lewis, Sen. James Inhofe/(R) Oklahoma, Chris McBee/Storm Chaser, American Red Cross representative as well as correspondents from NBC, The Weather Channel and KFOR.
*** Tuesday’s “MSNBC Live with Thomas Roberts” line-up: MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts anchors live on scene in Moore, OK with a team of reporters and guests that include OK Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb and Storm Chaser Simon Brewer.
*** Tuesday’s “NOW with Alex Wagner” line-up: Alex Wagner’s guests include Demos’ Bob Herbert, Salon’s Joan Walsh, Dan Rather, and writer Benjamin Wallace-Wells.
*** Tuesday’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” line-up: Continuing coverage of the tragedy in Oklahoma with MSNBC’s Chris Jansing and Thomas Roberts, The Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore and Bryan Norcross, former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, and NOAA Storm Prediction Center’s Bill Bunting.
*** Tuesday’s “News Nation with Tamron Hall” line-up: Continuing coverage of the devastation in Oklahoma: among the guests joining Tamron Jayme Shelton from Moore Oklahoma emergency management, and a member from the American Red Cross on efforts to help the victims.
The Oklahoman: “Worse than May 3rd.” Story lede: “The monster returned.”
AP: “President Barack Obama has called Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin to express his concern about a monstrous tornado that wreaked havoc in the Oklahoma City suburbs. The White House says Obama told the governor that he’s directed the government and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide any assistance she needs. FEMA has sent a special team to Oklahoma’s emergency operations center to help out and dispatch resources.”
Obama will speak at 10:00 am ET on the tragedy. It was exactly one year ago today at that Obama spoke at the Joplin High School commencement. Here’s a timeline of President Obama’s speeches on tragedies.
It was also just two years ago, almost to the day, that President Obama visited Joplin, MO.
“Top White House staff, including Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, knew that a potentially damaging inspector general’s report on the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of tea party groups was looming but decided not to inform President Barack Obama,” Roll Call writes.
Politico: “Monday’s revelation amounts to the fifth iteration of the Obama administration’s account of events, after initially saying that the White House had first learned of the controversy from the press.”
Roll Call: “In the wake of revelations that IRS officials unduly targeted right-leaning groups, a number of tea party supporters plan to publicly shame the tax man by amassing outside the agency’s headquarters on Tuesday for a lightning-fast gripefest. The proposed ‘IRS Flash Rally’ — ‘We will NOT have a permit, so be prepared to keep moving on the sidewalk,’ one of the organizers counseled online — is scheduled to go down at the corner of 10th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest from noon to 1 p.m.”
The Hill: “Predictions of massive ‘rate shock’ as a result of President Obama's healthcare law have been overblown, according to new analysis from the Center for American Progress (CAP). CAP, a liberal think tank, said higher costs will only affect about 3 percent of people between ages 19 and 29. Critics of the healthcare law say young, healthy people will see their premiums skyrocket as a result of new rules designed to protect patients who have pre-existing conditions.”
But… The Hill also notes, “Labor unions are breaking with President Obama on ObamaCare. Months after the president’s reelection, a variety of unions are publicly balking at how the administration plans to implement the landmark law. They warn that unless there are changes, the results could be catastrophic.”
The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), the United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers and Allied Workers, and UNITE HERE are among the groups.
President Obama and the first lady will visit Africa June 26-July 3. They’ll head to Senegal, South Africa, and Tanzania.
Sen. Tom Coburn, a Republican from Oklahoma, wants the tornado relief funding to be offset with balancing spending cuts.
AP: “The Senate Judiciary Committee hopes to nail down an elusive compromise on high-tech visas and may punt a controversy over gay marriage to the full Senate as it makes final drafting decisions on immigration legislation that grants a shot at citizenship to millions living in the country illegally.”
“The inquiry led by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee into the slaying of four Americans at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, last year has been attention-grabbing, but some senior GOP aides are worried that the partisan overtones are diverting Congress from identifying and addressing the real lessons learned from the attack,” Roll Call writes. “In particular, these aides say key staffers have been overly consumed with chasing down or addressing inaccurate or unfounded accusations emerging from the inquiry.”
Said a Republican aide: “We have got to get past that and figure out what are we going to do going forward. Some of the accusations, I mean you wouldn’t believe some of this stuff. It’s just — I mean, you’ve got to be on Mars to come up with some of this stuff.”
Another IRS hearing tomorrow… Douglas “Shulman, appointed by President George W. Bush to a five-year term that expired last year, will testify Wednesday before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Joining him will be Neil S. Wolin, the deputy secretary of the Treasury Department, and Lois Lerner, the director of the IRS Exempt Organizations division, who may bring more knowledge of what the IRS did than the other officials the committees have chosen to interview publicly,” Roll Call writes.
Amb. Thomas Pickering, who wrote the review of the State Department’s handling of Benghazi, will be deposed Thursday by the House Oversight Committee.
AP: “People who falsely claim they have received a military medal in order to obtain money or government benefits could face up to a year in jail under legislation that easily passed the House Monday.”
Roll Call: “House Republican leadership will soon have to decide how hard to push a controversial ban on late-term abortions sought by the party’s base in the wake of Pennsylvania abortion provider Kermit Gosnell’s three murder convictions. So far, GOP leaders have only made strongly worded statements regarding Gosnell, and it’s not yet clear whether GOP leaders will bring a national ban on late-term abortions, authored by conservative Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., to the floor.”
Stu Rothenberg warns Republicans of overreach on the trio of controversies: “Let’s not forget: Republicans failed to capitalize on President Bill Clinton’s inappropriate conduct by over-playing their hand and pushing impeachment. Not only did they fail to drive him from office, the GOP ended up losing a handful of House seats in the 1998 midterms instead of adding seats as initially expected. Republicans allowed themselves to look as if they were primarily interested in scoring political points and overturning the results of the 1996 election, even if it meant paralyzing the government. That same danger exists once again for the GOP.”
Charlie Cook: “One wonders how long Republicans are going to bark up this tree, perhaps the wrong tree, while they ignore their own party’s problems, which were shown to be profound in the most recent elections. Clearly none of these recent issues has had a real impact on voters yet. Republicans seem to be betting everything on them, just as they did in 1998—about which even Newt Gingrich (who was House speaker that year) commented recently to NPR, ‘I think we overreached in ’98.’ Republicans and conservatives who are so consumed by these ‘scandals’ should ask themselves why, despite wall-to-wall media attention and the constant focus inside the Beltway—some are even talking about grounds for impeachment—Obama’s job-approval needle hasn’t moved. The CNN/ORC poll suggests that people are aware of and watching the news, but they aren’t reacting, at least not yet. Clearly Republicans hope the public will begin to respond. But at what point do they decide that maybe voters might be more interested in other issues or worries than about politicians on one side pointing fingers and throwing allegations at those on the other side? At what point might the GOP conclude that it is just digging the hole a little deeper?”
ARKANSAS: A state treasurer accused of taking money from a broker who managed state funds says she won’t resign, despite Gov. Mike Beebe’s (D) call for her to do so.
GEORGIA: Michelle Nunn is planning her announcement for the Senate within weeks, Roll Call reports.
MISSISSIPPI: Sen. Thad Cochran (R), 75, says he’s undecided about running for reelection in 2014.
NEW YORK: Maggie Haberman: “Bill and Hillary Clinton are making clear they are staying out of the New York City Democratic mayoral primary, just as the race is about to be roiled by the candidacy of their close aide Huma Abedin’s husband, Anthony Weiner. The pair of stay-on-the-sidelines statements came as Weiner is set to declare his candidacy by video this week, likely on Tuesday or Wednesday. But the statements seem aimed at avoiding the appearance of taking sides in a race that includes the potential first female (and first openly gay) Democratic nominee, a potential second black New York mayor, and Hillary Clinton’s own former Senate campaign manager.”
SOUTH DAKOTA: Politico: Majority Leader Harry Reid and ex-Sen. Tom Daschle had a tense exchange over the South Dakota Senate race. Reid and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee “wanted to recruit former Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-S.D.) as their candidate to replace [Tim] Johnson in 2014. … But against Reid’s will, Daschle … was privately encouraging a longtime former aide and personal friend, Rick Weiland, to mount a bid of his own. Daschle’s endorsement of Weiland helped persuade Herseth Sandlin to pass on the Senate race, according to Democratic sources close to the issue. Reid and top Senate Democrats were stunned and outraged by Daschle’s move, a sentiment Reid communicated directly to the former senator, according to several people familiar with the incident.”
UTAH: Mia Love, who lost in 2012, will try again for a rematch in 2014 against Democrat Jim Matheson. But in a year without Mitt Romney at the top of the ticket, the most popular politician in Utah, Love would start out with an uphill climb.
VIRGINIA: National Journal: “Virginia Republicans Panicking Over Their Choice for Lieutenant Governor.” Write Beth Reinhard: E.W. “Jackson’s unexpected entrance into the Virginia statewide elections this year is one of the starkest examples of the challenges facing the GOP as it tries to broaden its appeal on the way to 2016.” More: “Forced into an awkward arranged marriage, Cuccinelli’s top advisers have urged Jackson to put aside his social crusades and reinforce their campaign’s message on job growth. But until the campaign is comfortable that Jackson is on board with the plan, Cuccinelli is expected to keep his distance from Jackson after completing a two-day statewide tour with him on Tuesday.”
Los Angeles will make history when voters elect a new mayor on Tuesday but the runoff race between two Democratic candidates isn’t drawing much interest as turnout could reach a record low despite the more than $33 million that’s been spent on the nearly two year-long contest to succeed outgoing Mayor Anthony Villagarosa.
Los Angeles voters are choosing a new mayor today. Razor-tight … and bitter – this race could also make history. But voter turnout is expected to be very low. NBC's Miguel Almaguer reports.
The race pits City Controller Wendy Greuel, who would be the city’s first woman elected to the post, against City Councilman Eric Garcetti, who would be the first elected Jewish mayor.
Garcetti, the son of former Los Angeles County District Attorney Gil Garcetti, has maintained a lead in the polls throughout the race, but most expected the runoff contest between the two to tighten.
Greuel has racked up the most high-profile endorsements in the race, including ones from former President Bill Clinton, Sen. Barbara Boxer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and six members of the state’s congressional delegation. Garcetti has been endorsed by former DNC Chairman Howard Dean and two California members of Congress.
Greuel has also been the biggest beneficiary of outside money in the race, with groups combining to spend $7.7 million on her behalf, compared to juts $2.7 million for Garcetti. $5.6 million of that cash for Greuel has come from unions, with just $1 million from labor groups for Garcetti.
Despite the high-spending contest, few people in Los Angeles seem to be paying very close attention. In the March primary, only 21% of 1.8 million registered voters went to the polls, and runoff turnout is typically much lower than that. According to a Los Angeles Times review, the winner may not even exceed the vote totals of the city’s 1938 contest.
Los Angeles County Democratic Party Chairman Eric Bauman said based on early absentee returns, he believes runoff turnout will actually exceed the primary.
But that doesn't mean that voter turnout won't still be low.
"Voters in Los Angeles have voter fatigue," said Bauman, pointing to a string of not just statewide and congressional elections, but also numerous ballot measures and city and county elections.
But as Los Angeles has also found itself in financial straits in recent years, Bauman said the race has dealt more with how to just maintain city services, instead of big ideas Villagarosa campaigned on during the last open seat race twelve years ago.
"You don't have that dramatic flair to drive people to the polls," said Bauman.
Still, Greuel hasn’t been able to overtake the city councilman in the race, and a USC Price/Los Angeles Times poll released this weekend showed her still trailing seven points, 48%-41%. Garcetti also leads among several critical constituencies – women, Latinos and Democrats, though Greuel has made small gains with each. In the race’s waning days, Greuel has said she remains optimistic the remaining undecided voters will break her way. With African-American voters still breaking nearly even, both candidates spent the weekend visiting black churches in the city’s South side to get voters to the polls.
One of the main reasons Greuel hasn’t been able to overtake the lead – her main labor backer, the city-controlled Department of Water and Power is highly unpopular in the area, especially in the crucial San Fernando Valley, even though she represented the area for seven years on the city council. Garcetti has painted her as a puppet of the city’s public works sector, while Greuel has hit back that Garcetti supported raises for the DWP.
This story was originally published on Tue May 21, 2013 7:41 AM EDT