NBC's Mark Murray discusses the political significance of the Iraq War as the conflict's tenth anniversary approaches.
Video edited by NBC's John Bailey.
NBC's Mark Murray discusses the political significance of the Iraq War as the conflict's tenth anniversary approaches.
Video edited by NBC's John Bailey.
Should conservatives shoot all the consultants now?
Top GOP strategists like Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie might want to watch out, because there was at least one apparent yes on Thursday at the Conservative Political Action Conference.
“Politics is like war. If you can’t win, get the hell going,” said Democratic pollster Pat Caddell, who also has been critical of President Obama and the Democrats. “It’s personally offensive when the GOP establishment throws away a win like they did in 2012.”
Caddell, a Fox News contributor, joined a handful of Republicans on a CPAC panel entitled “Should We Shoot All the Consultants Now?” to discuss how the party managed the 2012 campaign.
There was no clear consensus, except that Caddell was the most critical person in the room.
“I blame the donors who allow themselves to be played for marks. I blame the people in the grassroots for allowing themselves to be played for suckers,” he said. “It’s time to stop being marks. It’s time to stop being suckers. It’s time for you people to get real.”
Consultants have had overwhelming power for a long time, added Republican National Committeeman Morton Blackwell. He maintained that this influence hurts the party, because there is a strong incentive for consultants to spend money on advertising where they often receive a 15% commission. Ad buys, therefore, often take priority over “people-intensive activities” centered on grassroots organization.
But the sole consultant on the panel was more skeptical about directing the blame at one group.
“Consultants are either geniuses or idiots every two years,” said Jeff Roe, founder of Axiom Strategies. “Consultants’ role on this is somewhat overstated.”
There are many other factors that set the campaign’s tone, agreed Brian Baker, president of the End Spending Action Fund. Everybody who is a part of the campaign is responsible for its failure, he said.
But Caddell had harsh words for Team Romney. “The Romney campaign is the single worst campaign in the history of the United States,” Caddell said. “[Chief strategist Stuart] Stevens had as much business running a campaign as I do sprouting wings and flying out of this room.”
He predicted that the Republican Party would become extinct, unless it became the anti-establishment, anti-Washington party.
“In my party, we play to win. We play for life and death,” said Caddell, who served as Jimmy Carter’s pollster. “Your party has no problem playing the Washington Generals to the Harlem Globetrotters.”
Other panelists, however, were more optimistic about the GOP’s future.
“I think he’s dead wrong,” said Baker, arguing that the party was still successful, especially outside of Washington.
“There are 30 Republican governors -- highest in the party in 12 years,” he said. “The Republican Party won over 700 seats in state legislative races in 2010 and there are now more Republican state legislators than in any time since the 1920s.”
Former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney sought to pass the torch of leadership in the GOP to a new generation of conservatives in his first major public speech since losing last year's election.
Romney, the failed candidate who challenged President Barack Obama in 2012, heralded a handful of Republican governors and his former running mate — Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan — as the next generation of GOP leadership. And he counseled party activists gathered here at the Conservative Political Action Conference to learn from his campaign's missteps.
"It is up to us to make sure that we learn from my mistakes, and from our mistakes, so that we can win the victories those people and this nation depend upon," Romney told a warmly supportive CPAC crowd.
In his first public appearance since losing the 2012 presidential election to President Barack Obama, Mitt Romney starts off his speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference offering "advice" to the president of the United States, stating "do whatever you can to keep America strong, to keep America prosperous and free, and the most-powerful nation on Earth."
"It’s fashionable in some circles to be pessimistic about America, about conservative solutions, about the Republican Party," he added. "I utterly reject that pessimism. We may not have carried the day last Nov. 7, but we haven’t lost the country we love, and we haven't lost our way."
The former Massachusetts governor has kept a deliberately low profile following his lopsided loss versus Obama last November.
Following a campaign in which he was caricatured as out of touch — an image reinforced by his comments about "47 percent" of Americans depending upon government — many Republicans have quickly looked past Romney, who seemed at risk of becoming relegated to footnote status within the GOP.
But Romney used his speech to pledge to remain involved in Republican politics.
"I am sorry that I will not be your president – but I will be your co-worker and I will stand shoulder to shoulder alongside you," he said. "In the end, we will win just as we have won before, and for the same reason: because our cause is just and it is right."
And Romney singled out a handful of Republicans in his speech who could become that next generation of winners.
He hailed South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (who introduced him), and Republican Govs. Rick Snyder (Mich.), Nathan Deal (Ga.), Scott Walker (Wis.), Susana Martinez (N.M.) and Brian Sandoval (Nev.), along with two governors who weren't invited to CPAC because of perceived apostasies against conservatism: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell.
Romney made few references, aside from Ryan, to leaders in Congress. Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Rand Paul, R-Ky., or Ted Cruz, R-Texas, did not earn a shout-out from the former GOP nominee.
CPAC has been an important gathering for Romney in the past. He twice won its influential straw poll, and ended his first bid for the Republican nomination at 2008's gathering. Romney called himself a "severely conservative" governor during his speech at CPAC in 2012, a description which Democrats turned against him in the general election.
Kevin Lamarque / Reuters
Former Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney acknowledges supporters as he speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference at National Harbor, Md., March 15, 2013.
Before this gathering of Republican stalwarts, Romney also weighed in on the looming question before the GOP, about whether it should moderate in some respects, or continue to hew to its conservative ideology.
He argued that a "conservative vision can attract a majority of Americans and form a governing coalition of renewal and reform."
It's unclear whether or when the public might expect to hear from again from Romney, who recently joined the executive committee of one of his sons' investment companies. But he struck a wistful note upon reflecting about his failed campaign.
"Thank you again for your help and support along our journey," he said. "Ann and I will treasure these memories all the days of our lives."
This story was originally published on Fri Mar 15, 2013 1:59 PM EDT
NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator who very well may have been a Michigan primary win away from being the Republican nominee, gave a rousing defense of social values here at the Conservative Political Action Conference.
“For those in our movement who want to abandon our moral underpinnings to win, what does it profit a movement to gain the country and lose its own soul?" Santorum told this room of thousands of conservative activists at CPAC to raucous applause. "The left in America has made that Faustian bargain… We must not.”
Santorum’s speech, which led off with an emotional recounting of the untimely death of his nephew, will only likely stoke speculation that he is thinking about another run in 2016. He set out what conservatives should fight for, had plenty of attacks on President Barack Obama, distanced himself from Congress -- despite having served there for 16 years, and even noted that he had created a conservative advocacy group, something that will help keep him in the conversation on the right.
Santorum accused the president of wanting to “close the deal” on a transformation of America 100 years in the making. He said Obama “wants to replace the ‘why’ of American Revolution for ‘why’ of French revolution –- a society that is Godless without faith,” that is “anti clerical, anti-God, where the government is the center, and they are the ones who care for us. This is President Obama’s New Deal.”
He added, “How do we turn this around? How do we make a difference in America today? I’ve tried to do my part.”
He contended that the problem on the right is not that there are not enough conservatives, it is that that conservatives -- and churchgoing social conservatives, in particular -- are not fired up enough.
“The passion in America has been on the other side,” Santorum said before warning, “They live their lives every day to transform us. Those who think America will be just fine … we just go about our lives. But we don’t have the passion that they do. To rise up and fight against what our founders said was the greatest threat to freedom -- time. Time. The erosion of our values over time, that we will lose that revolutionary fervor… Karen and I are committed that we are not going to let that happen on our watch.”
Of course, after the 2004 election, there were books written about the influence of social conservatives. They had helped re-elect President George W. Bush and were being touted as potentially spurring a permanent “Red America.” But white born-again Christians actually made up a higher share of the electorate in 2012 than 2004. In 2004, they made up 23 percent of the electorate; in 2012, they were 26 percent.
Santorum continued, “Don’t look to Washington, D.C. to solve this problem. There are very few leaders in Congress. There are a lot of followers. If you look to them to solve their problems, you will be disappointed. … The answer is here.”
The National Rifle Association's Wayne LaPierre railed Friday against "elites," whom he accused of harboring a secret agenda of creating a registry of gun owners across the country.
LaPierre, a top official for the gun-rights lobby, forcefully attacked the Obama administration, Democratic lawmakers and the media during an address before the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). He ridiculed proponents of stricter gun controls, and won repeated cheers from the conservative activists in the audience for his defense of Second Amendment rights.
National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference, telling audience members, "They can call me crazy...but NRA's nearly 5 million members ... will not back down, not ever. I promise you that."
And LaPierre used his speech to slam a proposal before Congress to require background checks for all firearms transactions, a law that has won some new support in the wake of the deadly December shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.
"You know what's really absurd? Not protecting our children in school," he said, repeating his call for funding armed guards in every school in America. "Here's what the political elites offer instead: a placebo called universal background checks."
LaPierre said the background checks would set the stage for universal gun registration.
"It's the real goal they've been pushing for decades," he said.
LaPierre sought to set up the battle over gun control as a battle between "elites" — a word he used repeatedly — who view gun owners as "crazy," another term the NRA executive used repeatedly in reference to himself, and how media had characterized him.
And he stoked fears that universal background checks would lead to newspapers publishing the names and addresses of gun owners, so that "gangs and criminals" or the Mexican and Chinese governments could access them.
LaPierre also mocked the Obama administration and Vice President Joe Biden for his suggestion that a warning shot could ward off an intruder.
"The vice president of the United States actually told women, facing an attack, to actually empty their shotguns in the air. Honestly, have they lost their minds over at the White House?" LaPierre said to wild applause.
Prominent Republicans have signed a brief supporting the Supreme Court challenge to California's Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage. NBC's Andrea Mitchell reports.
Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman's endorsement of same-sex marriage rights on Friday is the latest high-profile example of a sea change within the conservative movement toward gay rights.
A trickle of GOP leaders have begun to back the rights of gay and lesbian couples to marry, and activists at the conservative movement's signature gathering this week express tolerance for Republicans who support same-sex marriage, even if they personally disagree.
Portman, an influential senator whom Mitt Romney almost selected last year as his running mate, announced that he had changed his position toward same-sex marriage because one of his sons is gay.
"I have come to believe that if two people are prepared to make a lifetime commitment to love and care for each other in good times and in bad, the government shouldn't deny them the opportunity to get married," the Ohio senator wrote in an op-ed for the Columbus Dispatch.
He's not the only high-profile Republican to back marriage rights for same-sex couples, either.
Jon Huntsman, a GOP presidential candidate in 2012 who had endorsed civil unions, said this year that he supports marriage rights. Furthermore, he framed it in conservative terms.
"There is nothing conservative about denying other Americans the ability to forge that same relationship with the person they love," he wrote.
And Theodore Olson, a former solicitor general for President George W. Bush, has been one of the lead attorneys challenging California's Proposition 8, a ballot initiative barring same-sex marriage in that state. (Portman fretted in his op-ed that a court decision might hamper the political movement toward legalizing gay and lesbian weddings.)
Brendan Hoffman / Getty Images, file
Sen. Rob Portman attends the 2012 Fiscal Summit on May 15, 2012 in Washington.
And Fred Malek, a Republican power-broker, told NBC News this week that conservatives shouldn't feel threatened by gays and lesbian couples who wish to marry.
"I've always felt that marriage is between a man and a woman, but other people don't agree with that," he said. "People should be able to live their lives the way they choose. And it's not going to threaten our overall value system or our country to allow gays to marry, if that's what they want to do."
In response to the Portman endorsement, a spokesman for Republican House Speaker John Boehner said, "Senator Portman is a great friend and ally, and the Speaker respects his position, but the speaker continues to believe that marriage is between a man and a woman."
It was a sentiment echoed by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who said, "As a matter of personal religious conviction, I've always believed in marriage, I believe in the traditional marriage between a man and a woman. But again, I think Senator Portman is entitled to his positions, and you know we are a party of diversity and, I think, of respect."
Gay rights is an issue that has changed rapidly in just a few years. President George W. Bush endorsed a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, and President Barack Obama had said he did not support same-sex marriage when he was first running for office in 2008.
But Obama completed his "evolution" on gay rights (hastened by Vice President Joe Biden's inadvertent pronouncement of support for same-sex marriage) and announced his support for marriage rights last year. Romney had re-iterated his opposition to gay marriage at the time, but declined to use it as a cudgel versus Obama, calling same-sex marriage a "tender" issue.
There's still resistance, though, to the issue. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, R, received a loud cheer on Thursday at this week's Conservative Political Action Conference when he said: "Just because I believe that states should have the right to define marriage in a traditional way does not make me a bigot."
Nonetheless, the broader change reflects broader public opinion. A plurality of Americans — 47 percent — said they support same-sex marriage, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released earlier this month. Forty-three percent of Americans oppose same-sex marriage. Looking inside of those numbers, independents back marriage rights by a 12-point margin, and nearly a quarter of Republicans — 23 percent — said they support same-sex marriage.
But while the GOP has been slower to embrace same-sex marriage, the party's internal struggle toward same-sex marriage was on display this week at CPAC.
While a gay Republican group, GOProud, was formally barred from sponsoring CPAC this year, an informal discussion organized by conservatives who support same-sex marriage was one of the most popular on the confab's first day.
Prominent Ohio conservative Sen. Rob Portman, once considered for Mitt Romney's running mate, is speaking out about gay marriage in support of his son, who is gay.
The split is undeniably generational, too; young conservatives here at CPAC are much more inclined to support same-sex marriage, even if they don't personally support it.
"I would say that the majority of my friends — it's not so much that we agree with it, it's just that we don't care," said Gabe Snyder, a 20-year-old college student from North Carolina in attendance at CPAC. He said he personally opposes same-sex marriage, but believed that a generational change was afoot.
"I think this generation coming up is going to be different from our parents," said Snyder.
And Renee Knight Leberry, from South Carolina, who also personally opposes same-sex marriage, said that she didn't think Portman's conservative credentials were diminished at all by his pronouncement on Friday.
"I respect him; it's his choice, and as a Christian conservative, I respect anybody's choice. That's his son, and he loves his son. I don't think it would be right to judge him for supporting his son."
This story was originally published on Fri Mar 15, 2013 10:48 AM EDT
Mitt Romney has one term as governor, two presidential campaigns, three elite university degrees, decades of church leadership and 25 years in the private sector under his belt -- but at age 66, sources close to him say he’s trying to figure out what to do with his life.
But does a trip to the Washington, D.C. area to address the conservative CPAC conference on Friday mean that Romney is interested in waging a political comeback?
“No, no. No,” said his son, Tagg emphatically. “He doesn’t want to be back… He’s done.”
Former campaign spokesman Ryan Williams says that while Romney is not seeking to be back in the public eye by addressing the crowd, there was a specific reason for choosing to make his first public speech since losing the election in front of this particular group. “The CPAC speech is a chance for him to thank the activists who helped him during his presidential campaigns in 2008 and 2012.”
“He took the appropriate amount of time off, and is returning now because of the personal significance this event has for him,” Williams added.
As First Read has pointed out, Romney finished either first or second in every CPAC straw poll since 2007. What’s more, he ended his 2008 presidential bid at the conservative conference. And Williams says he can still remember the disappointment in the air when Romney’s speech concluded in ‘08.
But when he speaks on Friday, he will no longer do so as a current or potential presidential candidate. “He understands that there’s a new generation of Republican leaders now emerging to guide the party,” Williams said. “He’s not a politician who craves the spotlight.”
Romney’s quiet exit from public life is reminiscent of another family member’s -- his father, former Michigan Gov. George Romney. Both men went into politics in their mid-50s after lucrative careers in the private sector. George Romney lost a bid for president in 1968 and served briefly in the Nixon administration and then went on to spend decades in charity work.
"My dad wants to be involved in giving back as well, and he's still figuring out the best way to do that,” Tagg Romney said. Romney has said he is planning on dedicating time to a foundation working with children, but he has also signed on as chairman of the executive committee of Solamere, Tagg’s investment firm based in Boston. Romney will serve in that role for one week a month, and spend the rest of his time continuing to float between Utah and California, where his other sons, daughters-in-law and grandchildren live.
Paul Ryan — the GOP's 2012 vice presidential nominee — declined to weigh in on the direction of his party during a speech Friday at the Conservative Political Action Conference and focused his remarks instead on the budget he authored this week
At the Conservative Political Action Conference, Rep. Paul Ryan spoke extensively about the budget he produced earlier in the week.
The Wisconsin congressman, who chairs the House Budget Committee, focused his remarks at CPAC almost exclusively on the budget he produced on Tuesday, the third he has written as chairman of the panel.
Ryan's budgets helped build his notoriety among conservatives, and propelled him to the spot as Mitt Romney's running mate last fall. But amid Republican soul-searching about the party's path forward, Ryan stuck to remarks about his budget — a series of proposals that are already generally popular among conservatives.
"This has been a really big week. We got white smoke from the Vatican, and we got a budget from the Senate," he joked. "But when you read it, you find the Vatican's not the only place blowing smoke this week."
Ryan's just one of several speakers thought to be possible contenders for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. Among others, Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., both spoke yesterday.
Those two senators concentrated their remarks mostly on the direction of the GOP, and why — or why not — the party is in need of reinvention.
Carolyn Kaster / AP
House Budget Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., speaks about the 2014 Budget Resolution during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 12, 2013.
Ryan's remarks were mostly a rehash of his press conferences and media appearances in support of his budget.
"Today, I want to make the case for balance," he said. "That case, in a nutshell, is that a balanced budget will create a healthier economy."
The man whom Ryan hoped would become president this year, Mitt Romney, will address CPAC later this afternoon.
This story was originally published on Fri Mar 15, 2013 10:11 AM EDT
NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- He’s not exactly hired.
Donald Trump, the New York real estate mogul who flirted with a 2012 presidential bid, spoke largely off the cuff to a respectful, but somewhat bewildered crowd here at the Conservative Political Action Conference.
Real estate mogul Donald Trump opened up his speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference by telling the crowd, "'Our country is in very, very serious trouble."
On the one hand, Trump spouted what could be seen as fairly liberal views, chiding the GOP and conservatives for wanting to cut entitlements and for becoming too conservative.
“Our country is in very, very serious trouble,” Trump said, adding, “Likewise the Republican Party is in serious trouble.” He said if the party wants to “change substantially” Medidcare, Social Security, and Medicaid, “and you think you’re going to win elections, it just really is not going to happen.”
But on the other hand, he also said the party should not jump too quickly on immigration reform because the 11 million undocumented immigrants would vote Democratic.
“Every one of those 11 million” illegal immigrants “will be voting Democratic and you have to be very, very careful. Odds are, it’s not looking so great for Republicans. … You’re on a suicide mission – you’re just not going to get that vote."
At the same time, he said Europeans who want to immigrate to the U.S. and who have children who do well at American universities should be allowed to stay.
Trump also had praise for Mitt Romney, who will speak later. But had one critique.
“If Mitt Romney made one mistake,” Trump said, “he didn’t talk enough about his success. The Republicans and Mitt didn’t speak enough about the great things he did.”
After his speech, Trump held an unannounced news conference, but it was only open initially to select - and mostly conservative - media outlets. NBC was eventually allowed in after protesting.
Can Republicans reciprocate to Obama?... Conservative activists and organizations are pressuring GOPers not to… A day of contradictions at CPAC… Rubio vs. Portman on gay marriage… Romney returns with CPAC speech at 1:00 pm ET… And federal grand jury investigates Menendez.
*** Can Republicans reciprocate? President Obama has spent the past week wining and dining congressional Republicans. He’s addressed Senate and House Republicans, and he’s answered all of their questions -- all in an effort to strike a budget deal. As we’ve pointed out, this “charm offensive” will matter only if the president keeps it up. (The AP writes that GOP members want to see more of Obama and his congressional liaisons; in fact, some Democrats want this, too.) But here’s our question for the other side: Can Republicans reciprocate? The Wall Street Journal reports that conservative activists and organizations are hoping they don’t. “President Barack Obama's wooing of congressional Republicans in the past week has spurred the party's most conservative faction into girding to keep GOP lawmakers in line. Conservative activists and organizations have begun warning Republican legislators that if they agree to raise taxes in any broad budget deal with the president, they should expect to face challengers from the party's right wing in their next primary elections.” But this raises another question: When do Republicans and conservatives stop worrying about Obama? After all, he’s not running for office ever again. Why is this so much fear and suspicion about the man who sits in the Oval Office (especially after spending the campaign portraying him as weak and incompetent)? Our guess: Opposing Obama is the only thing that Republicans and conservatives still agree upon.
Jim Watson / AFP - Getty Images
President Barack Obama departs the LBJ room March 14 on Capitol Hill after meeting with Senate Republicans.
*** A day of contradictions at CPAC: And during the first day of the Conservative Political Action Conference, that opposition to Obama was present and consistent. But outside of that, it was a day of contradictions. You had Florida Sen. Marco Rubio arguing that Republicans and conservatives don’t need new ideas. (“We don’t need a new idea. The idea is America, and it still works.”) But you also had Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul contending that the GOP must change. (“The GOP of old has grown stale and moss-covered. I don't think we need to name any names here, do we?”) You had the relatively new GOP faces (Rubio, Paul, Ken Cuccinelli), versus the old or out of office (Allen West, Rick Perry). You had a CPAC panel on immigration reform, but you also had Rubio not say a WORD in his speech about this issue that he’s helping to spearhead. And you had Rand Paul essentially calling for constitutional protections for American terrorists, but you also had a panel suggesting that President Obama was weak on Benghazi. Yet more than anything else, the vibe at CPAC’s first day was … stale. Part of it is that the conference is taking place in suburban Maryland and in a cavernous complex. But the other part of it is that it’s just four months after the GOP lost its second-straight election against Obama. And as we said yesterday, it’s only natural for a party to experience contradictions and an identity crisis after two-straight losses. Take away the idea of opposing Obama, and all of sudden the party’s problems and divides are front and center. Opposing Obama papers over those problems.
*** Rubio vs. Portman on gay marriage: Speaking of contradictions, here’s another we saw in the past 24 hours: In his CPAC speech yesterday, Rubio stated his opposition to gay marriage, and it drew one of his biggest applause lines. "Just because I believe that states should have the right to define marriage in the traditional way does not make me a bigot," he said. But last night, we learned that fellow vice-presidential finalist Rob Portman supports gay marriage because his son is gay. “Knowing that my son is gay prompted me to consider the issue from another perspective: that of a dad who wants all three of his kids to lead happy, meaningful lives with the people they love, a blessing Jane and I have shared for 26 years,” Portman writes in the Columbus Dispatch. This all highlights another striking divide inside the GOP: Can a party that so relies on social conservatives and evangelical Christians reconcile more and more Republicans accepting gay marriage? As for how this issue played a role during Portman’s VP vetting, the senator says he was forthcoming with Romney’s team and that Romney assured him that the issue played no role in deciding to go with Ryan. This morning, the person who ran Romney’s VP search, Beth Myers, tells NBC’s Kasie Hunt she was aware at the time and also reaffirmed it played no role in the decision. In fact, Myers reveals that Portman called her last night to let her know he was going public.
*** Romney returns: And here’s a final contradiction: Yesterday, we heard at least two Republicans -- Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Heritage Foundation head Jim DeMint -- implicitly criticize the GOP’s last presidential nominee, Mitt Romney. "The popular media narrative is that this country has shifted away from conservative ideas, as evidence by the last two presidential elections,” Perry said, per NBC’s Kasie Hunt. "That might be true if Republicans had actually nominated conservative candidates in 2008 and 2012." And here was DeMint: “In 2012, with the presidential election on the line, national Republican leadership rejected the lessons of 2010 and went back to the old way of campaigning.” But guess what: Romney is speaking at CPAC today at 1:00 pm ET. As NBC’s Sarah Boxer reports, Romney speech doesn’t amount to a political comeback. “No. No. No,” his son Tagg told Boxer. “He doesn’t want to be back… He’s done.” Instead, he’s speaking to thank the CPAC activists who supported him (after all, Romney finished first or second in the CPAC straw poll from 2007-2012). But as NBC’s Mike O’Brien notes, Romney’s speech today -- his first since losing the presidential contest -- is a “curious” re-emergence. “Romney allies … privately express their misgivings about Romney’s choice of CPAC to stage his national [re-emergence]. Its penchant for red-meat conservative rhetoric could make Romney still seem bitter about the election, and scuttle his chance to builder a broader, statesmanlike profile.”
*** Today’s CPAC schedule: Here are today’s major speakers, per NBC’s Taylor Hiegel: Donald Trump 8:45 am ET, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell 9:00 am, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan 9:30 am, the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre 10:45 am, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum 12:00 pm, Mitt Romney 1:00 pm, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal 2:25 pm, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor 3:35 pm, and Jeb Bush 7:30 pm.
*** CPAC’s schedule for Saturday: And here are tomorrow’s major speakers: Iowa Rep. Steve King 9:05 am, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker 9:15 am, Newt Gingrich 9:30 am, Sarah Palin 12:00 pm, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus 3:45 pm, and Sen. Ted Cruz 5:10 pm. The straw poll results will be released at 5:00 pm.
*** Federal grand jury investigating Menendez: And finally, don’t miss this: “A federal grand jury in Miami is investigating Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), examining his role in advocating for the business interests of a wealthy donor and friend,” the Washington Post reports. “Menendez has intervened in matters affecting the financial interests of Florida ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen, seeking to apply pressure on the Dominican government to honor a contract with Melgen’s port-security company, documents and interviews show. Also, Menendez’s office has acknowledged he interceded with federal health-care officials after they said that Melgen had overbilled the U.S. government for care at his clinic.” Folks, partisan media outlets reporting scurrilous charges is one thing; a federal grand jury investigation is another thing. And don’t be surprised if this grand jury investigation puts A LOT of pressure on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to relieve Menendez of his duties as Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman.
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*** Friday’s “Daily Rundown” line-up: Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren previews the president’s trip next week… NBC’s David Gregory on the president’s outreach this week and what might come of it all... One of us (!!!) live at CPAC… A Deep Dive into the legacy of the late Gov. Ann Richards (D-TX) and the new Broadway play “Ann” about her life with its director Benjamin Endsley Klein and Richards’ daughter Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood… Plus former Obama White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru and Roll Call’s Shira Toeplitz join the Gaggle.
*** Friday’s “Jansing & Co.” line-up: Guests include Rep Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), the Washington Post’s David Nakamura, Time’s Rana Foroohar, BriGette McCoy (a former Army specialist who testified about military sexual assault before a Senate committee), Democratic consultant Jason Stanford and Republican strategist John Feehery.
*** Friday's "MSNBC Live" line-up: Mara Schiavocampo interviews Liz Mair from GOProud, Sen Angus King, Keith Boykin, Rachel Smolkin and Chip Saltsman. She also talks to Sara Nelson of the V.P. of Association of Flight Attendants about knives on planes. Plus Attorney, Jami Floyd and MSNBC contributor Jimmy Williams.
*** Friday’s “NOW with Alex Wagner” line-up: Alex Wagner’s guests include the Washington Post’s Jonathan Capehart, the New Republic’s Franklin Foer, Politico’s Carrie Budoff Brown, and Buzzfeed’s Ben Smith.
*** Friday’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” line-up: NBC’s Andrea Mitchell interviews White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza and Michael Gerson, Georgetown University Dean Chester Gillis and CBC Chair Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH).
*** Friday’s “News Nation with Tamron Hall” line-up: MSNBC’s Craig Melvin, filling in for Tamron Hall, interviews conservative radio talk show host Steve Deace, American Urban radio Washington bureau chief April Ryan, and Dem strategist Chris Kofinis.
*** Saturday’s and Sunday’s “Weekends with Alex Witt” line-up: As part of her weekly “Office Politics” segment, MSNBC’s Alex Witt interviews NBC’s Michael Isikoff.
*** Saturday’s “MSNBC Live Weekends” line-up, starting at 2:00 pm ET: Craig Melvin’s guests include Saratoga Springs, Utah Mayor Mia Love, Former Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM), GOProud’s Jimmy LaSalvia, Providence Mayor Angel Tavares (D-RI), former U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican and former Boston Mayor Raymond Flynn, and former Pres. George W. Bush aide Matt Schlapp.
*** Sunday’s “MSNBC Live Weekends” line-up, starting 3:00 pm ET: Craig Melvin’s guests include RNC Comm. Director Sean Spicer, Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev, MSNBC contributor and journalist Rula Jebreal, journalist Kimberly Dozier, author of “Breathing the Fire”, Robert Costa of the National Review, MSNBC contributor Ari Melber, MSNBC contributor Perry Bacon, and Father John Bartunek.
USA Today: “President Obama wrapped up a series of meetings with Congress on Thursday, the latest phase in a reach-out-to-Republicans effort marked by stark differences over taxes, the budget and other issues. Senate Republicans who spoke with the president said they appreciated the visit, but repeated their opposition to new taxes in any new debt reduction plan.”
The AP: “President Barack Obama is pushing Congress to authorize more federally funded research into clean energy technologies that can wean automobiles off oil. Obama proposed the idea of an energy security trust last month in his State of the Union address, but he was putting a price tag on the idea during a trip Friday to the Argonne National Laboratory outside Chicago — $2 billion over 10 years. The White House says the research would be paid for with revenue from federal oil and gas leases on offshore drilling and would not add to the deficit.”
USA Today: “President Obama will call on Congress on Friday to set aside $2 billion over the next decade to support research of advanced vehicle technology, according to White House officials.”
USA Today: “Republican Sen. Rob Portman said Thursday that he now supports gay marriage — a surprise turnabout on a hot-button social issue, sparked by a deeply personal reflection that began two years ago after Portman's son, Will, told him that he is gay. ‘It's a change of heart from the position of a father,’ Portman told three Ohio reporters on Thursday during a 45-minute interview in his office. ‘I think we should be allowing gay couples the joy and stability of marriage.’”
The Boston Globe: “A proposal to ban assault weapons and limit magazine capacity was approved by a Senate committee Thursday during a contentious debate that accentuated the parties’ divided views on gun rights and restrictions.”
USA Today: “A Senate panel on Thursday approved a ban on assault weapons, but the measure will face stiff resistance from Republicans and some Democrats on the Senate floor.”
AP: House Republicans are pushing legislation that would end or consolidate dozens of overlapping job-training programs to make it easier for job seekers to gain the skills they need. It’s a goal shared by President Barack Obama, but the GOP bill faces the same partisan differences that hobble much of what comes before Congress.”
Yesterday at CPAC, the GOP identity crisis was on full display, and it likely will be again today. Marco Rubio and Rand Paul were the highlights, speaking back to back. Rubio said the Republican Party doesn’t need new ideas. But he didn’t talk about immigration reform, something he is championing in the Senate and shift to the left for the party. Paul criticized the GOP as “stale and moss covered,” but only received tepid applause for his foreign-policy views.
Today’s lineup features Mitt Romney, Wayne LaPierre, Rick Santorum, Bobby Jindal, Paul Ryan, and even Donald Trump.
Romney speaks at 1 pm ET. How he’s received will be the thing to watch. Since his loss in 2012, the right has roundly criticized Romney and his campaign not understanding demographics better but also for not standing more firmly for conservative principles. CPAC is where Romney announced his dropout of the 2008 presidential race and where last year, he called himself a “severely” conservative governor, despite staking out a moderate image in Massachusetts. Romney has finished first or second in every CPAC straw poll over the last six years. Romney’s emergence is one some are questioning.
“What can he offer them?” Reagan biographer Craig Shirley told NBC’s Michael O’Brien. “Based on his interview I saw last weekend, not much. When he ran, he didn’t seem to understand much of this country.”
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, one of Romney’s rivals for the 2012 nomination took a not-so-subtle swipe at Romney (and John McCain), as NBC’s Kasie Hunt reported: "The popular media narrative is that this country has shifted away from conservative ideas, as evidence by the last two presidential elections. That’s what they think, that’s what they say. That might be true if Republicans had actually nominated conservative candidates in 2008 and 2012."
NRA chief Wayne LaPierre speaks at 10:45 am ET, a day after a Senate committee passed an assault-weapons ban along party lines.
Santorum is set to hit at noon ET, Jindal at 2:25 pm ET, Ryan in the morning at 9:30 preceded by Trump at 8:45. Others of note: Mitch McConnell 9 am ET, Kelly Ayotte 9:15 am ET, Eric Cantor 3:35 pm ET. There will also be a panel on the November 2012 autopsy at 9:45 am ET.
USA Today: “Paul and Marco Rubio, Republican senators being measured as 2016 presidential possibilities, gave campaign-style speeches at the annual conservative gathering: soaring rhetoric and a quick rundown of policy positions. Paul attacked wasteful government spending, advocated a flat tax and suggested eliminating the Department of Education. … In an implicit rebuke to former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney's dismissal of 47% of the electorate, Rubio said the country doesn't have ‘too many people who want too much from government.' At a gathering with a heavy focus on improving Republican appeal to Hispanic voters, Rubio avoided the topic of immigration. Instead, he touched on energy policy, school choice and economic rivalry with China, and he defended social conservatism.”
Yahoo: “As part of an ambitious plan to make the Republican Party more competitive in future elections, the Republican National Committee is working with outside groups to build a platform that will allow the party to share its massive warehouse of voter data with GOP vendors, campaigns and committees.”
MARYLAND: The AP reports that Maryland is on track to end its state death penalty. “It's been eight years since Maryland executed a convicted killer, but that could be the last time if the General Assembly, as expected, gives final passage this week to a bill to abolish capital punishment.Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, has been pushing for the change since his first year in office. Now the Democratic-controlled legislature seems poised to make Maryland the 18th state in the nation to do away with the death penalty. A repeal bill has already been approved by the state Senate and it was expected to win final passage from the House of Delegates on Friday.”
MASSACHUSETTS: The SEIU endorsed Ed Markey.
MISSISSIPPI: National Journal tells the story of a black, gay mayoral candidate who was killed. “[B]ecause this is Clarksdale, a haunted town with an unclean past, and because McMillian was black, gay, running for office, and cut down in his prime, the speculation [of his death] has run wild and fierce. The story people tell often says more about the teller than the subject.”
Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, will re-emerge into the public spotlight with a speech on Friday before the Conservative Political Action Conference, a gesture that has left some Republicans wondering why.
Romney will speak to activists for the first time since suffering a decisive defeat versus President Barack Obama in last fall’s election.
And he’ll do it before a gathering that has witnessed some of the most enduring moments of Romney’s political career: He twice won CPAC’s closely watched straw poll, he ended his 2008 campaign there, and it was at the confab in 2012 that Romney termed himself a “severely conservative” governor – a characterization which Democrats would turn back against him over the course of last year’s campaign.
And while it’s unknown what Romney might say during his speech on Friday, his speech before CPAC has prompted muted bewilderment among Romney’s own allies and conservative activists alike.
Brendan Smialowski / AFP - Getty Images
Former Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney arrives for lunch at the White House November 29, 2012 in Washington, D.C.
The former Massachusetts governor, who turned 66 on Tuesday, had kept a deliberately low profile after Nov. 6 of last year. Romney met once with Obama and gathered with campaign alumni this winter, but has otherwise avoided a spotlight that wasn’t always kind of him throughout last year’s campaign.
He’s only started to re-emerge in recent weeks. Romney gave an interview to “Fox News Sunday” earlier this month, and joined the executive board of his son Tagg’s investment company. Romney’s speech on Friday is his return to the public square, though it’s not clear how much interest conservatives will have in what he’ll have to say.
“What can he offer them?” asked Reagan biographer Craig Shirley. “Based on his interview I saw last weekend, not much. When he ran, he didn’t seem to understand much of this country.”
Romney allies also privately express their misgivings about Romney’s choice of CPAC to stage his national comeback. Its penchant for red-meat conservative rhetoric could make Romney still seem bitter about the election, and scuttle his chance to builder a broader, statesmanlike profile.
Moreover, Romney had occasionally struggled from a rocky relationship with conservatives throughout his campaign. Conservative critics had often been quick to criticize the Republican ticket for any perceived tack toward the political middle in the general election. And following the election, many of Romney’s detractors were unsparing in their criticism of the Republican nominee, in particular his surreptitiously-recorded comments about the “47 percent” of Americans whom he called dependent on government.
Former Gov. Mitt Romney calls the controversial statement "unfortunate" and admitted that it was "harmful" to his campaign.
The former GOP nominee’s decision to speak at CPAC, though, likely reflects his close relationship with Al Cardenas, a supporter of Romney’s who heads the American Conservative Union, which organizes CPAC.
And not all Romney supporters think the decision to speak at CPAC is a bad idea, either.
“I think it’s a very good sign for the movement that Mitt Romney will be there,” said former Rep. Vin Weber, R-Minn., who served as an informal adviser to the Romney campaign. “A lot of people kind of expected that Romney would move back to the moderate Republican middle, which wouldn’t be a good thing for him – it would make him look cynical.”
This story was originally published on Fri Mar 15, 2013 5:20 AM EDT
Gay Republican groups like GOProud were not invited to the Conservative Political Action Convention this year, but that didn’t stop them from making an impact at the annual confab.
Speaking in a tiny but packed conference room just down the hall from the main CPAC stage, GOProud Executive Director Jimmy LaSalvia urged activists to help the group broaden its reach within the Republican Party.
“How can we build a new, modern coalition that can win? Well, we bring together conservatives and libertarians and social conservatives and everyone who shares our vision of a government that puts freedom first,” he said. “Millions of Americans, including gay Americans, will join us if we ask them and welcome them.”
The other speakers at the panel discussion, sponsored by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which hosted GOProud as their guest at CPAC, said GOProud and similar groups have demographics on their side, citing statistics showing a majority of Republicans under 30 support gay marriage.
LaSalvia also emphasized that pro-gay GOP activists should not reject Republicans who oppose same-sex marriage -- but he did skewer those within the party who he said “just don’t like gay people.”
“And in 2013, that’s just not OK in America anymore. Because gay people are in every family. Every community. Every circle of friends,” he said.
NBC's Kasie Hunt contributed to this article.
It was split personality Thursday at the first day of the Conservative Political Action Conference, where panelists who favored immigration reform shared the same stage with conservatives who continued to question the Obama administration's explanation for Benghazi.
The conservative movement's reformists got their time in the spotlight, but so did figures who continue to hew to Republican orthodoxy — a display of the identity crisis that has plagued the GOP following successive losses in two presidential elections.
Take, for instance, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio's speech early this afternoon, in which he said conservative principles "still work."
"Our challenge is to create an agenda," he said, "applying our time-tested principles to the challenges of today."
The speaker immediately following him, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul (who, like Rubio, is thought of as a contender for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016), struck a different note.
He told conference attendees that "the GOP of old has grown stale and moss-covered," suggesting that the party was ripe for re-invention. (It's new direction, Paul said, involved "going forward to the classical and timeless ideas.")
Nonetheless, their speeches were symptomatic of the identity crisis from which the conservative movement is currently suffering.
The same conference that hosted a panel on offering undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship — regarded as a politically forward-thinking proposal for Republicans — featured another rehashing the Sept. 11, 2012 attacks on a U.S. diplomatic post in Libya, dwelling on conspiracy theories about the Obama administration's response to those attacks.
The CPAC scene was no less full of its knocks on the media, or vendors peddling radio shows or magazines for conference attendees.
The first day of CPAC saw a movement being beckoned toward the future, but with its heels dragging firmly in the past.
Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., expresses his views on the ongoing budget battle in Washington and how it impacts America's military.
Freshman Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., an Army veteran, took on the growing isolationist tide in the Republican Party during his speech Thursday at CPAC.
Cotton, who was awarded a Bronze Star following tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, insisted that an isolationist approach to foreign policy would put the country’s safety at risk.
“I worry that when we withdraw from the world the world is not going to withdraw from us,” Cotton told NBC’s Kasie Hunt after he appeared on a panel at the Conservative Political Action Convention called “Too Many American Wars? Should We Fight Anywhere And Can We Afford It?”
At the panel, Cotton said the answer to that question was no: “We’re fighting one war. And it’s a war on radical Islam.”
He also suggested defense spending should be shielded from sequestration, saying, “I support the level of spending that sequestration imposes but I would like to see that spending shifted back towards the military, away from domestic programs.”
Cotton asserted that defense spending, which made up 20 percent of federal expenditures in 2012, is not part of the government’s money woes: “We certainly have a staggering national debt. Our military is not responsible for that,” he said during the panel.
When it comes to his own political aspirations, Cotton, who is already being touted as a prospective Senate challenger to Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor, remained mum, although he did – perhaps – set a timetable for his decision-making.
“I was just elected a few months ago,” he said. “There’ll be a time for politics later this year.”
Texas Republican Gov. Rick Perry stepped back onto the national stage on Thursday to accuse President Barack Obama of "hysteria" over the sequester -- and to make a not-so-subtle swipe at Mitt Romney, who beat him in the 2012 primary.
"The popular media narrative is that this country has shifted away from conservative ideas, as evidence by the last two presidential elections. That’s what they think, that’s what they say," Perry told the crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday afternoon. "That might be true if Republicans had actually nominated conservative candidates in 2008 and 2012."
Perry was referring in part to Romney, who struggled for years to win over the conservative activists that populate gatherings like CPAC. Romney is slated to speak again to the gathering on Friday.
Perry's speech at the confab -- for years a draw for conservative politicians with national aspirations -- was the first of several scheduled for 2012 GOP hopefuls who lost to Romney.
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum is scheduled to speak, as is former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
Texas Governor Rick Perry delivers remarks at CPAC Thursday, while stressing his views on how America can become a more prosperous nation.
In his speech, Perry criticized Obama for playing politics with the sequester.
"What we are getting is a lot of hysteria," he said. "We're getting a lot of hysteria right now from a president more concerned about the next election than saving programs like Medicare."
Perry singled out the government's decision to release more than 2,000 illegal immigrants because of budget concerns related to the sequester.
"This president's posture, it'd be laughable if he hadn't taken it one step too far, dangerously releasing criminals onto our streets to make a political point," Perry said of Obama. "When you have a federally-sponsored jailbreak -- and don't get confused, that's exactly what that is -- when you've had a federally-sponsored jailbreak, you've crossed the line from politics of spin to politics as a craven form of cynicism."
Perry criticized the Medicaid expansion that's included as part of Obama's health care plan -- an expansion that several Republican governors have accepted in other states, including Florida and Michigan.
"The Medicaid expansion amounts to one large, incremental step towards single-payer socialized medicine. That’s where we headed and I for one will not accept that as long as I’m governor of the state of Texas," he said.
Trying to build support for his agenda, Obama met with members of the senate Thursday following a Wednesday meeting with House Republicans. NBC's Brian Williams reports.
In the final afternoon of his three-day outreach effort to Congress, President Barack Obama got a rare thumbs up from some of his top GOP rivals after a private luncheon on Capitol Hill Thursday.
“I think we all felt that it was a very good meeting,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who told reporters after the luncheon that the group had a “great” discussion largely focused on reforming entitlement programs.
Dining on lobster salad and blueberry pie, Obama and Senate Republicans spoke behind closed doors before the president also paid a visit to House Democrats on the Hill.
Like the president’s meeting yesterday with House Republicans, participants said the tone of the Senate event was respectful and candid.
J. Scott Applewhite / AP
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Minority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, greet President Barack Obama on Capitol Hill before he meets with the Senate Republican caucus in Washington, Thursday, March 14, 2013.
McConnell told reporters after the meeting that he hopes Obama will work to win the support of his own party to reform programs like Medicare.
“He certainly understands that you can’t fix the country without adjusting entitlements to fit the demographics of our country,” he said. “We’ll see where we go from here but it was a great meeting.”
According to one senior Republican senator who spoke with NBC News, Obama said, "I can't provide the cover to get entitlement reform done without revenue."
The senator called this the "overriding theme" of the meeting, adding “To get really hard things done the president has to lead. He gets that, but he gets that in the context of, 'I have to lead, but you have to give me some things that I can say were victories.'"
The senator went on, “At one moment he said, talking about things he could do better, he said, 'Hopefully I’m a better president now than the day I started. And all of us need to learn from our mistakes.’”
Freshman Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who earlier Thursday had a heated exchange with Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein over the constitutionality of an assault weapons ban, also told reporters that he was “encouraged by [Obama’s] expression of willingness” to work on corporate tax reform and other economic issues.
“I’m hopeful that this conversation today was a positive step in that direction,” Cruz said.
For his part, Kansas Republican Sen. Jerry Moran called the meeting “bland,” adding that there were “no fireworks on either side ... it was just a polite conversation with nothing unusual.” He said that corporate tax reform is one area where both sides might be able to forge an agreement.
Obama called them “good conversations,” but added, “ultimately it's a matter of the House and Senate both caucuses getting together and everybody being willing to compromise.”
President Barack Obama comments after meeting with Senate Republicans and House Democrats on Thursday.
The president dined last week with some of the GOP caucus, holding an intimate dinner at the swank Jefferson Hotel in Washington with a dozen Republican lawmakers, including Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and John McCain of Arizona.
The luncheon with Senate Republicans came as some of the president’s most vociferous conservative opponents gathered on the other side of the Potomac River for an annual confab-slash-pep-rally.
While the president and senators were behind closed doors, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul – who led a 13-hour Senate filibuster last week in protest of the administration’s policy on drones – lambasted Obama as fuzzy on civil liberties at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland.
“The message for the president is that no one person gets to decide the law,” Paul said at the beginning of his remarks. “No one person gets to decide your guilt or innocence.”
“I’m sorry I wasn’t able to have lunch with him today,” he added with a dollop of sarcasm, earning laughter from the conservative crowd. “Maybe he can see this later on C-SPAN.”
NBC's Frank Thorp contributed to this report.
This story was originally published on Thu Mar 14, 2013 4:26 PM EDT
Sen. Rand Paul delivers remarks at CPAC that are centered around the ongoing budget battles in Washington.
OXON HILL, Md. -- Rand Paul had tough words for his own party, describing it as “stale and moss covered” before conservatives at the Conservative Political Action Conference.
“The Republican Party has to change by going forward to the classical and timeless ideas enshrined in our Constitution,” the Kentucky senator said here. He added, “We need a Republican Party that shows up on the Southside of Chicago and shouts at the top of our lungs 'We are the party of jobs and opportunity. The GOP is the ticket to the middle class.' The GOP of old has grown stale and moss-covered. I don't think we need to name any names here, do we?”
The critique of the GOP received resounding applause from this crowd, but the reception for Paul, whose tone could be described as solemn, wasn’t full-throated. His speech, in fact, highlighted the difficulty he would face if he were to make an expected 2016 run.
Paul, the heir to his father Ron’s “torch of liberty,” tried here to straddle the line between his staunch libertarianism -- which includes dovish views on foreign policy, privacy rights and even drug use -- with his conservative line on spending that principally makes him a darling of these activists.
Many here praised Paul for his modern-era record 13-hour filibuster. But not all did so on the substance.
“I have a message for the President, a message that is loud and clear, a message that doesn't mince words,” Paul began.
“Don't drone me, bro!” interrupted one young supporter.
The crowd laughed; Paul leaned back, took it in, and joked that that was not exactly the message.
But Paul only received tepid applause as he made his way through the opening section of his speech about civil liberties and drone use. Paul has raised questions about the administration’s contention that drones could be used against Americans acting as enemy combatants on American soil.
“Good intentions are not enough,” Paul said was his message for President Barack Obama. There were just a smattering of applause.
“If we allow one man to charge Americans as enemy combatants and indefinitely detain or drone them, then what exactly is it our brave young men and women are fighting for?” Paul said, and again just tepid applause.
“Our Bill of Rights is what defines us and makes us exceptional,” Paul said to polite applause.
On reaching out to youth, Paul said, “They want leaders that won't feed them a line of crap or sell them short. They aren't afraid of individual liberty.” Just a light round of claps.
Paul was much better received when criticizing the president for spending, taxes, the sequester, and cutting foreign aid and waste – instead of White House tours.
“The only stimulus ever proven to work is leaving more money in the hands of those who earned it!” Paul said.
“Only in Washington could an increase of $7 trillion in spending over a decade be called a cut,” Paul said of the sequester. And added to raucous applause: “Meanwhile the President found an extra $250 million to send to Egypt. … I say-not a penny more to countries that burn our flag.”
Paul contended that instead of eliminating White House tours, he should cut research for “monkeys on meth,” robotic squirrels, and menus for colonization on Mars that were developed by college students given all-expense paid trips to Hawaii.
“Mr. President, maybe we could have cut robotic squirrels before White House tours,” Paul said.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, R, served up a familiar portion of conservative red meat to CPAC attendees on Thursday, endearing himself to activists who could help propel him to a higher political office in the future.
Rubio received a rock star's welcome before speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference, where he used his 15-some-minute slot to extol traditional conservative positions on taxes, education, abortion, same-sex marriage and trade with China.
"We don't need a new idea. The idea's America, and it still works," said Rubio, to major applause, anticipating that liberals would criticize his remarks for offering no new ideas.
Sen. Marco Rubio draws applause from a crowd Thursday at the annual CPAC event.
But the Florida senator declined to ruffle any feathers, too. He didn't even mention the immigration overhaul on which he's worked, which would provide a pathway to citizenship for the 12 million undocumented residents currently in the United States.
Rather, Rubio argued to conservatives that there is no need to abandon their bedrock principles amid a bout of soul-searching within the GOP about how to broaden the party's appeal. The Florida senator repeatedly noted that the world has changed, but made the case for why standby Republican policies should stay the same.
"Just because I believe that states should have the right to define marriage in a traditional way does not make me a bigot," he said.
"The people who are actually close-minded in American politics are the people that love to preach about the certainty of science in regards to our climate, but ignore the absolute fact that science has proven that life begins at conception," Rubio added.
Providing his prescription for the GOP as it searches for a winning path forward, Rubio said: "Our challenge is to create an agenda applying our principles — our principles, they still work — applying our time-tested principles to the challenges of today."
In essence, Rubio firmly staked himself in the camp of Republicans who argue that the party's makeover is more cosmetic than policy-based.
And the one issue on which Rubio has been willing to defy party orthodoxy — immigration — went unmentioned.
In today's First Read Minute, NBC's Mark Murray and Domenico Montanaro are keeping a close eye on the Conservative Political Action Conference and the last day of President Obama's meetings with lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
NBC’s Mark Murray and Domenico Montanaro answer your questions regarding the GOP’s autopsy of the 2012 election, the likelihood of the Democrats taking control of the House of Representatives in 2014, and who may be the Republican female contenders in the 2016 presidential election. Plus, Mark and Domenico on why news reporting can be so uniform across the mainstream media.
Thanks to Frank "Grimey" Grimes, Springfield, USA, mikehataway, GOP Comeback 2014 and Amy B. Portland, ME for their questions. A big thanks to everyone else who submitted questions-- keep them coming!
Edited by NBC's Natalie Cucchiara.
Conservatives' struggles with immigration reform were on full display on Thursday at CPAC, as activists listened politely — but offered no warm embrace — to arguments that the American right should support a pathway to legalization or citizenship for the 12 million undocumented immigrants in the United States.
Several members of a late-morning panel in immigration argued that supporting immigration reform was inherently conservative, and would help stem the tide of Latinos voting increasingly for Democrats in recent elections.
But the only major applause line of the panel came after Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, a Puerto Rican-American, decried the notion of allowing the undocumented immigrants currently in the United States a pathway to citizenship.
"It would be a travesty, in my opinion, to treat those who violated our laws to get here much better than those who have patiently waited their turn to come to the United States," he said.
The topic of immigration reform has long been a dicey one for conservatives. President George W. Bush had sought an immigration reform law in 2007, but it was felled largely by conservatives in his own party who decried the proposal as "amnesty." The influence of that uprising reverberated throughout the GOP, as former supporters of immigration reform moved rightward on the issue.
But following repeated losses in national elections — fueled, in part, by the growing influence of the Latino vote, and its increasing support for Democrats — Republican leaders have called for revisiting the issue of immigration to help stymie Hispanic voters' drift toward Democrats.
"If we're going to stop the tide against secular socialism, we need more allies," said the Republican pollster Whit Ayres.
"Every single month for the next 20 years, 50,000 Hispanic youngsters will turn 18-years-old, and become eligible to vote," he said, hoping to illustrate the inevitable, growing influence of Latino voters. "If we hope to have a vibrant, center-right coalition, we'd better reach out aggressively."
Added Jennifer Korn, of the American Action Network: "Right now what we have is de-facto amnesty, and that's just not acceptable … You can be conservative, and be for immigration reform."
But the crowd full of conservative activists offered no sense of a groundswell for immigration reform along the lines of the type of law currently being drafted in the Senate. That law, which has been cobbled together by a bipartisan group of senators, calls for stricter border enforcement, but also a path to earned citizenship for the 12 million undocumented immigrations estimated to be currently in the U.S.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a member of that bipartisan group who's helped sell the plan to conservatives, will speak later Thursday afternoon.