By Domenico Montanaro, Deputy Political Editor, NBC News
Americans want to give the recent U.S. deal with Iran a chance before passing new sanctions and are opposed to military action to stop Iran’s nuclear program, a poll conducted by Hart Research for liberal group Americans United for Chance. (Hart Research is the Democratic half of the NBC/WSJ poll.) Here's the full poll.
By a 34-22 percent margin, people are in favor of the Iran deal with 41% having no opinion or haven’t heard enough. When the terms of the deal are described, that jumps to 63-24 percent with Democrats, independents and Republicans all in favor, though the GOP is split:
“Under this agreement, Iran will freeze its nuclear development program and will neutralize its entire stockpile of uranium that has already been enriched at a level that is close to what is needed to make a nuclear weapon. Iran will submit to international inspections to verify that it is living up to the terms of the agreement. In return, the United States and other countries will reduce some economic sanctions on Iran, while leaving most economic sanctions in place, and agree not to place any new sanctions on Iran while the agreement is in force. This agreement is for six months, during which time there will be negotiations to reach a long-term, comprehensive solution that would ensure that Iran's nuclear program will be exclusively peaceful. If a permanent deal is not achieved during this period, sanctions could be reinstated and toughened.”
Some disagree with the notion that this deal is a "freeze," because they say Iran could be developing without the world knowing and they don't believe any Iranian nuclear enrichment will be used for "exclusively peaceful" purposes.
But even when told the criticism that the U.S. is “giving away too much” and that Saudi Arabia and Israel are against the deal, a majority still support it, 54-41 percent.
The clear message, according to the poll -- which should send a message to wavering Democrats like Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) -- is to closely monitor how the agreement is being implemented but don’t pass new sanctions – 68-21 percent.
The poll also finds that people would support members who are in favor of the efforts to negotiate a deal with Iran (64-16 percent), wants to give the agreement a chance to work before doing anything else (58-18 percent), and supports the Obama administration’s effort to negotiate an agreement (57-23 percent).
More than two-thirds (67-25 percent) agree more with members of congress who want to give the agreement and further negotiations a chance to work versus ones who want to pass new economic sanctions. And that holds true across party lines and even with those who are strongly pro-Israel.
Americans are not in favor of military action – 27-52 percent. When read the best arguments on both sides, they are even more opposed to military action – 70-22 percent.
If Democrats are looking for talking points, the best one in favor of the deal is: “Must try to reach negotiated resolution preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon; alternative likely to be military action, U.S. in another Mideast war.”
Second-best, and a close second: “Six-month agreement is best opportunity to negotiate a permanent ban on Iran's development of a nuclear weapon; in U.S. interests to give it a chance to work.”
The least convincing argument: “Part of agreement is Iran makes important concessions beyond freezing its nuclear program; Iran agreed to dilute/neutralize entire stockpile of uranium.”
The federal government shutdown will enter its fourth day on Friday after Congress moved no further toward resolving its fiscal showdown and President Barack Obama ratcheted up pressure on Republicans.
A flurry of legislative activity at the beginning of this week tempered by the end of Thursday, slowed further by an incident on Capitol Hill in which a woman attempted to breach security there and at the White House. The dramatic encounter forced a temporary lockdown of the Capitol complex, and halted House and Senate proceedings for about an hour.
Following his closed House GOP meeting, House Speaker John Boehner lashes out about the government shutdown as it enters its fourth day, saying "Now this isn't some damn game. The American people don't want their government shut down and neither do I."
But Congress showed no indications of progress toward resolving their differences over funding the government before the security interruption. The continued impasse, though, prompted Obama to sharpen his rhetoric toward Republicans in Congress, singling out House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, as the lone obstacle to re-opening the government.
“The American people are not pawns in some political game,” Obama said at a construction company based in a Maryland suburb of Washington, D.C.
Lawmakers in both parties seemed more resigned than ever to a prolonged shutdown that could stretch through the Oct. 17 deadline by which Congress must increase the nation’s debt ceiling – that is, authorize the government to borrow more money to finance its existing obligations.
On that question, Obama vowed Thursday, there would be “no negotiating.” His Treasury Department warned simultaneously that if Congress were to fail to raise the debt ceiling, it would risk economic calamity worse than any seen since the Great Depression.
But lawmakers spent more of their time on efforts to place blame for the shutdown with the party opposite theirs.
The House GOP pushed forward with votes on a number of mini-spending bills purposefully crafted to reinstate spending for some of the most visible closures forced by the shutdown.
The legislation – like one bill to reinstate funding for the National Institutes of Health – were more intended as vehicles for Republican messaging than anything else. Republicans, for instance, suggested that Democrats were unsympathetic to cancer patients for opposing that bill because the shutdown meant that children with cancer could not enter into new trial therapy programs.
The White House has said that Obama would veto each of these, and Senate Democrats were expected to kill the items before they ever reached the president’s desk. Democrats argued – as they have for days on end – that the best way to restore funding for these programs would be to reinstate funding for all of government by passing the six-week “clean” extension of government spending favored by the Senate.
President Barack Obama talks about the federal government shutdown at an event in Rockville, Md., Thursday.
And during his remarks in Maryland, Obama sought to emphasize that the adverse effects of the shutdown extended well beyond the few examples highlighted by Republicans in Congress.
"Right now, hundreds of thousands of Americans, hard-working Americans, suddenly aren't receiving their paycheck," he said. "The impacts of a shutdown go way beyond those things that you're seeing on television."
But as the partisan bickering, all indicators pointed to work in Congress through the weekend to reach an agreement on spending that has, so far, eluded them. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he expected to continue working into Saturday and Sunday.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said late Thursday that Republicans would announce their plans for weekend in the House the next morning.
Democrats in the House meanwhile tried several times to use procedural maneuvers to force a vote on the “clean,” six-week extension in government spending favored by Obama and Senate Democrats. But even though the tally of House Republicans to endorse a clean continuing resolution mounted, GOP lawmakers in the House held out against the procedural votes that would have handed Democrats a strategic victory.
As the shutdown persisted, new polling suggested that three-quarters of Americans wished that Republicans, along with Obama and his Democratic allies, would come together and compromise on the fiscal impasse.
But at this stage of the shutdown, more Americans blame Republicans in Congress for the shutdown than Obama and Democrats in Congress. Forty-four percent of Americans blame the GOP for the shutdown, found a new CBS News poll conducted after the shutdown came to pass. Thirty-five percent of American blamed Obama and congressional Democrats, while 17 percent blamed both parties for the shuttering of the government.
By Domenico Montanaro, Deputy Political Editor, NBC News
As we noted was likely in First Thoughts this morning, San Diego Mayor Bob Filner (D) will resign tomorrow, NBC San Diego reports. The former long-time congressman has been accused by 18 women of inappropriate contact.
"Filner, spotted leaving City Hall with packing boxes Wednesday night, will formally vacate the office following a closed session of City Council Friday, according to several sources. ...
"Over three days of negotiations in the downtown San Diego high-rise located just blocks from City Hall, officials reached a deal. Filner has agreed to a deal with the Tourism Marketing District then refused to adhere to the terms. He also pulled permits with Jack-in-the-Box and meddled in Centerpoint. So as with any negotiations, until the agreement is approved and signed, it’s still tentative."
The city council president, Todd Gloria, will take over as interim mayor, and there will likely be a special primary election in the next two to three months.
National Democrats will be happy to see Filner finally go. He had become a headache for them, as Republicans have highlighted his scandals, as well as Anthony Weiner's and Eliot Spitzer's in New York.
Senate Democrats were still trying to hammer out a deal Wednesday on a student loan interest rate measure that has had Democrats squabbling among themselves and with the White House since those rates doubled on July 1.
The Senate failed to advance a short-term fix that would have brought interest rates on subsidized federal loans back to 3.4 percent for one more year. The vote on a procedural measure - requiring 60 votes for passage - failed 51-49.
But another goal is a long-term measure that could resolve the existing impasse.
A Democratic aide said last night that no deal was reached after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid met with White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough.
The White House – and a bipartisan group of senators that includes moderate Republicans and conservative Democrats -- has proposed a fix that does not include a cap on interest rates, a non-starter among left-leaning Senate Democrats.
The House has passed its own legislation, which does not include a cap – and which uses the money the government saves to help pay down the deficit.
The White House has said it is open to including a cap on rates as part of the proposal. It said in a statement before the Senate vote that it "strongly supported" the short-term fix that failed early Wednesday afternoon.
Reid said Wednesday that Democrats made “progress” towards a deal in a morning meeting.
“Maybe we can come up with a compromise,” he said. “While imperfect, [like] a lot of things that happen legislatively, it will be a way for us to move forward.”
NBC's Carrie Dann contributed to this report.
This story was originally published on Wed Jul 10, 2013 11:19 AM EDT
In what some are saying could be a preview of 2016, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Hillary Clinton are showcasing their leadership skills at the Clinton Global Initiative meeting in Chicago. NBC's Peter Alexander reports.
By Domenico Montanaro, Deputy Political Editor, NBC News
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Hillary Clinton was absent from Netroots Nation, the largest gathering of liberal activists in the country, but when talking about 2016, no one was more present on the lips of attendees here than the former secretary of state.
“A lot of people are looking to Hillary Clinton right now,” said Alan Franklin, political director of Progress Now Colorado. He supported Barack Obama over Clinton in the 2008 primary and hopes Clinton, who is mulling another presidential run, will run again. “She’s arguably the most powerful woman in America. She’s set herself up for president well in 2016.”
What a difference a few years can make.
It was just six years ago, before many of these same activists, that Clinton was booed -- twice. They were largely angered by her support for the Iraq war, skeptical of her husband, Bill, who they viewed as a conservative Democratic president, and irritated with an insider campaign team they felt was largely dismissive of the burgeoning movement.
But times have changed. And progressives are ready to give her another shot. The war in Iraq is over, and the economy is the dominant issue; she has established herself as separate from her husband, and is viewed as more progressive; and much of the old political team does not appear to be in Clinton’s inner circle any longer.
And, of course, Clinton would be an historic candidate – the first woman president, following the first black president. What’s more, according to the polls, she gives Democrats the best chance to retain the White House.
“The fact that she makes 2016 uninteresting makes that attractive,” said Markos Moulitsas, founder of the popular blog Daily Kos. He added, “The reason I’m willing to give Hillary a pass is because the political climate today looks nothing like 2000. … There’s a realization that she has evolved with the times.”
For Clinton, it has always been something of a love-hate relationship with the activist left.
“This might surprise some of you, but not everybody says nice things about me,” Clinton said to a wave a laughter in remarks at this conference in 2007 in Chicago when it was known as Yearly Kos, named after Moulitsas’ blog. “It is a burden I have to bear. Let me say something a little unexpected: Thank you.”
Progressive activists sympathized with her through her husband's high-profile Oval Office infidelity and cheered her when she became a U.S. Senator from New York. But in 2007, when she was also leading all the polls for the Democratic nomination, the Iraq war was the dominant issue in American politics, and she voted for it.
“A lot of it had to do with the war,” said Maureen Erwin, a Bay Area political consultant, who supported Obama in 2008, but is now excited by the possibility of a Clinton 2016 bid.
“I mean—Hillary,” she said with a smile when asked who she would want to run. “I would love Hillary and Elizabeth Warren, [the Massachusetts senator]. It would be awesome to have a woman president and vice president. … She did a great job as secretary of state. As a woman, she has broken so many glass ceilings.”
“The obvious – I’m a woman,” said Wendy Wendlandt, acting director of Fair Share. She was a Clinton supporter in 2008. “Having a woman president would be great in my lifetime. I’ve always liked her.”
“She’s showed really to the public that she’s not just a smart wife, but someone extremely capable in her own right,” said Lisa Kermish, from Oakland, Calif., vice president of the University Professional and Technical Employees union.
And it wasn’t just women who felt that way.
“I’m all about making history,” Franklin said.
“We’re long past due to have a woman president,” Ray Seaman, online director for Progress Florida and a 2008 Obama supporter said, “and Hillary would be a great example.”
Many here also cited Clinton’s toughness. In an era when many progressives have been frustrated by Republicans who obstruct anything Obama, they would welcome some of Clinton's fire, as opposed to Obama’s always-cool approach.
“Hillary’s always been fantastic at fighting Republicans,” said Jim Dean, chairman of the advocacy group Democracy For America, and brother of ex-Vermont Gov. Howard Dean. “She’s a fighter, she’s tough as nails.”
“She would be a in a lot of ways a continuation of Obama’s policies, but be better at aggressively going at Republicans,” said Michael Thome, a blogger at Daily Kos.
At this conference six years ago in Chicago -- in the opening stages of the presidential election -- Clinton rankled progressives.
Unlike the other candidates, including Barack Obama, she declined to participate in breakout sessions that gave the bloggers more access. When that was announced, Clinton – the “establishment” candidate -- was booed. The boo birds rang out again when she did the unthinkable for many activists -- she defended lobbyists.
“A lot of those lobbyists, whether you like it or not, represent real Americans,” Clinton shot back at a questioner.
“I was here when she was booed,” said Thome, who has attended all eight conferences. “It was more some of the things she said that were off target rather her being booed. … Every time she ran, I wanted someone else,” but “she would be a very capable president. She’s a very capable person.”
This time around, Clinton’s seen as “cooler” and more open to the online community, many said. She has embraced her online persona, including the edgy “Texts from Hillary” Tumblr page that depicts her as a too-cool-for-school, world-traveling secretary of state firing off better-than-you texts to everyone from Obama to Sarah Palin.
Clinton even gave a hat tip to the creators of the page and Twitter feed in her maiden Tweet, something many here say the 2008 campaign team would have never done.
“She’s been great since,” Moulitsas said, “a great team player with Obama, and Mark Penn is retired from politics.”
Penn was Clinton’s pollster and senior adviser in 2008. Activists here complained that Penn and others on Team Clinton never cared to establish good relationships with them.
“To some extent, Mark Penn was the problem,” said Charles Chamberlain, the incoming executive director of Democracy For America. “But she’s a workhorse.”
The bitter 2008 Democratic primary seemed like ancient history here. Many cited her graceful exit from the race, her immediate support for Obama, and her work as secretary of state as reasons for their newfound affection for Hillary.
“The thing that impressed Obama supporters about Hillary is that she got right behind him after the primary,” said Seaman.
“That healed a lot of wounds,” Franklin added.
But, three years out from the next presidential election and not everyone’s ready to jump on board the Clinton train -- just yet anyway.
“I’m liking Hillary more since she was secretary of state. She was a responsible, smart politico,” Kermish said, before adding, “I want to see who else is out there.”
Many in the Netroots crowd are taking a wait-and-see approach, holding out hope that another, more progressive candidate will emerge, because they still view Clinton as a hawk; that even though she has evolved on some issues, like gay marriage, they would like her to speak out on economic issues – protect Social Security, Medicare, and forcefully about the banks the way Warren has; and they’re not keen on dynasty.
“I like her, but I don’t know,” Susan McTigue, of Manhattan Beach, Calif., said. “I hate the idea that it was Bush-Bush-Clinton-another guy-now maybe a Clinton again? I don’t want a monarchy. She’s a very strong, especially on women’s issues. I just find her too hawkish. More than half the country’s women… can’t we find somebody else? I’d rather have a more progressive candidate than a woman.”
Anne Moore, who happens to be the sister of filmmaker Michael Moore, was close to echoing the 2008 “Anybody But Hillary” crowd.
“She’s a hawk,” Moore said. “She has no stand on the issue I care most about, which is climate change. I would want Elizabeth Warren.”
But what if it were Clinton against a Republican?
“If it were between her and a Republican, I’d vote for her,” McTigue said.
“Of course,” Moore said, “I have to vote for her, if she runs.”
In this Jan. 4, 2013, photo, House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, walks to a strategy session with GOP members, on Capitol Hill in Washington at the start of the first full day of business for the new 113th Congress.
Throughout the 2012 presidential campaign, President Barack Obama and his Democratic allies in Congress confidently predicted that the re-election of the president would break the partisan “fever” they claimed had enveloped Washington and the Republican Party.
But the weeks since the election have found Republicans as dogged as ever in their resistance to Obama, whose initiatives – including gun control, immigration reform and efforts to boost renewable energy – still face an uncertain path forward, particularly in an unruly House of Representatives still controlled by a Republican majority. Republicans are signaling a willingness to go to great lengths to bend coming battles in their favor, especially versus a White House whom they view as just as unflinching in its views, if not more so.
“I believe if we're successful – when we’re successful in this election – the fever may break. My hope and my expectation is that after the election, now that it turns out the goal of beating Obama doesn’t make much sense because I’m not running again,” Obama said at an event on June 1. “We can start getting some cooperation again, and we’re not going to have people raising their hands and saying – or refusing to accept a deal where there’s $10 of cuts for every dollar of tax increases, but that people will accept a balanced plan for deficit reduction.”
That was an expectation the Obama administration carried all the way through the campaign; Vice President Joe Biden said on MSNBC just days before Election Day: “I think you’re going to see the fever break.”
President Obama nominated Chuck Hagel to defense secretary on Monday, January 7, 2013. The Morning Joe panel -- including the Council on Foreign Relations' Richard Haass and Dan Senor -- discusses why several top GOP lawmakers are having a tough time with the president's nomination.
But the just-finished fight over the fiscal cliff suggested that, if anything, Republicans are more entrenched than ever before. While Obama ultimately won the income tax rate increases on the wealthy, on which the president campaigned, it wasn’t until Republicans had exhausted every feasible move that they relented to Obama’s demand. And even then, it wasn’t until the U.S. had gone over the fiscal cliff – if only for a matter of hours – that Congress agreed to act, passing the bill in the House with mostly Democratic votes.
Debt limit a 'point of leverage' But Obama might be mistaken to assume his toughest fights with congressional Republicans are behind him. While Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s vow to make Obama a one-term president is now moot, Republicans appear as emboldened as ever to both battle with the administration and keep true to their the ideological conservatism that a large number in the party represent.
The temporary fiscal cliff deal sets up a series of potentially more contentious battles this spring over continuing government funding and authorizing more borrowing authority for the government. And top Republicans are now openly discussing options, like a government shutdown, that they had taken every pain to disavow in 2011.
"It may be necessary to partially shut down the government in order to secure the long-term fiscal well being of our country," Texas Sen. John Cornyn, Republicans' No. 2 in the Senate, wrote last week in the Houston Chronicle. "President Obama needs to take note of this reality and put forward a plan to avoid it immediately."
The government will reach its debt limit next month, and unless Congress raises the debt ceiling, the U.S. will default on 40 percent of its obligations. Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., explains what will happen to the economy, if the U.S. defaults.
And House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, called the debt limit fight "one point of leverage" in an interview with the Wall Street Journal; a Politico report, also published Monday, suggested the House speaker was more circumspect about the possibility of defaulting on the national debt. In 2011, Boehner stressed at every turn that defaulting on the U.S. debt was not an option.
Senate Republicans’ budget chief was more explicit: “I think it should be a firm principle that we should not raise the debt ceiling until we have a plan on how the new borrowed money will be spent,” Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions told the Washington Examiner on Tuesday.
If Obama was hoping there were more deals to be had on taxes, too, Republicans all but tried to slam the door on such an idea.
“We’ve resolved the tax issue now. It’s over. It’s behind us,” McConnell said Sunday on “Meet the Press.”
Fight over defense secretary And those are only the spending fights; other clashes are already taking shape.
Obama has also suggested that he’s willing to dive headlong – and quickly – into battles over comprehensive immigration reform and gun control, fights which could only threaten to intensify hostilities between the White House and congressional Republicans (and put some moderate Democrats in a tough spot politically in the meanwhile).
The president’s second-term initiatives could fall victim to the same fever that killed the DREAM Act, cap-and-trade legislation, the Employee Free Choice Act and the “public option” in health care reform during his first term.
“There will be plenty of time to take a look at their recommendations once they come forward,” McConnell said Sunday of Obama’s hope for quick action on curbing gun violence. “What’s going to dominate Washington for the next three months here is going to be spending and debt.”
House Republican leadership considers a new proposal from the White House to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff "a small step in the right direction" but aides say that "there are still substantive issues that are unresolved."
The lack of an outright rejection of the White House's most recent proposal is noteworthy, hinting that both sides may be willing to come to an agreement with just 13 days until the New Year.
The reaction comes after the White House proposed Monday what they call a $2.4 trillion dollar deficit reduction package, including $1.2 trillion in new revenues and $1.22 trillion in spending reductions.
Included in the revenue increases is the expiration of the Bush-era tax rates for incomes of $400,000 and more, marking the first time the White House has moved on their stance of raising rates on incomes of $250,000 and more. The $1.2 trillion in increased revenue is also down from the $1.4 trillion in new revenues the White House included in their last proposal.
Republican leaders are looking at the White House's latest fiscal cliff proposal, which includes a $2.4 trillion dollar deficit reduction package and tax hikes on incomes over $400,000, marking the first time the Obama administration has changed its stance on tax rates. NBC's Chuck Todd reports.
But Republicans feel the package is not balanced, and say that interest savings included in the White House's $1.2 trillion in spending reductions should not be included in the proposal.
"When you attempt to use all of those interest savings in lieu of programmatic structural reforms like the ones that we've been talking about you further enhance the unbalance between revenue and spending," a Senior GOP Aide said.
Because of that, the aides say that the spending reductions included in the White House proposal only equals $850 billion, compared to the $1.3 trillion they see in revenue increases, something they say does not achieve the balance they are looking for.
Talks continued Monday as the fiscal cliff quickly approaches. Reports suggest both sides are submitting to certain concessions. NBC's Brian Williams reports.
Aides said that House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has agreed to allow marginal tax rates on incomes of $1 million or more to move back to the Clinton-era level of 39.6%. He would also raise revenue through limits on itemized deductions and expenditures, which they say would raise a total of around $700 billion. Aides said they would have to work out how they would raise more revenue according to the still-to-be-decided target number.
But the Republican aides said details are still lacking in how spending would be cut, and how the tax code would be reformed to achieve the increase in revenues and cuts that is eventually agreed upon.
On both sides, it appears the White House and Republicans have agreed, in principal, to make both the cuts to entitlements, and the tax increases, occur in a two-step process.
The first step would take place in January of 2013, after which the second step would take place in January of 2014, but would be so unsavory that fundamental reforms of both the tax code and entitlement programs would be far more appealing.
This approach would effectively create another cliff at the end of 2013, where Congress would be forced to agree on comprehensive reforms to entitlement programs and the tax code, or face an alternative that neither side would prefer.
The Republican Leadership Aides say they are still talking to the White House, and that talks will continue in the days to come. But they were quick to say that despite the way the White House depicts their most recent proposal, it doesn't come close to the "balanced approach" they are seeking.
Either way, the aides said that the difference between the White House and Republicans are not unresolvable in the coming days.
"The issues that we're talking about are not technically difficult to resolve," one Republican Leadership Aide said, "There are not hundreds of moving parts, but they may be fundamental issues that are difficult to resolve."
Also unclear is how Republicans on Capitol Hill will react to Speaker Boehner's concession on tax rates. The House Republican conference will meet on Tuesday morning, where aides say leadership will discuss the details of the fiscal cliff negotiations.
While the mood may be icy when it comes to political sparring in Washington, there was a warm bit of good cheer in the U.S. Senate. Minnesota's Sen. Al Franken, inspired by an old grade school tradition from his childhood, organized a Secret Santa gift exchange again this year. The parties regularly tangle over government spending, but the senators did agree to a $10 spending cap for gifts.
Aides say a bipartisan group of 60 senators participated by picking names, mostly across the aisle, keeping those identities secret and then delivering small presents at a gathering over eggnog and seasonal treats Monday night.
Frank Fey / U.S. Senate Photographic Studio
Sen. Al Franken, right, speaks with colleagues during the gift exchange.
Not just any fruitcake was served -- the Senate kitchen began making fruitcake a few months ago, giving the brandy enough time to soak the cake. Due to fog that delayed some flights and therefore postponed Senate votes, some members were not able to attend the Monday party but were spotted exchanging wrapped gifts on the Senate floor late Tuesday.
Among the gifts given and received:
Sen. Franken received a VHS copy of the movie "Tunnel Vision" and a DVD of "Harvard Beats Yale 29-29" from Wyoming Republican Sen. John Barasso.
Franken, in turn, gave Arkansas Republican Sen. John Boozman a mahnomin porridge kit from Hell's Kitchen, a popular restaurant in Minneapolis. Sen. Franken serves that breakfast porridge at his weekly breakfast with constituents.
Florida Republican Marco Rubio gave Godiva chocolates to Delaware Democrat Chris Coons.
North Carolina Democrat Kay Hagan gave her state's famed peanuts to fellow Democrat Bob Casey of Pennsylvania.
New Hampshire Republican Kelly Ayotte gave Hagan a book, "1,001 Gardens you Should See Before You Die."
Wyoming's Mike Enzi, R-WI, gave Virginia Democrat Mark Warner a George Washington University T-shirt and a book on bicycling. Aides say Enzi "refrained from getting him a book on freestyle BMX tricks because of the safety issues Sen. Enzi works on."
Alaska Democrat Mark Begich presented a cookbook and wine from his home state to Missouri's Claire McCaskill.
Nebraska Republican Mike Johanns gave Nebraska wine to Florida Democrat Bill Nelson.
Johanns received a shirt for his undergraduate alma mater, St. Mary's University, from Minnesota Democrat Amy Klobuchar.
Montana Democrat Jon Tester gave home state chocolates to Ohio Republican Rob Portman.
Portman gave Louisiana's Mary Landrieu a Cincinnati favorite, Graeter's Buckeye Blitz ice cream.
Arkansas Republican John Boozman gave Georgia's Saxby Chambliss Mason jar wine glasses.
In 2011, the participation was a bit better, with 62 senators exchanging gifts. This year, with much year-end business left to complete, senators may spend more of the holiday season together as the “fiscal cliff” looms.
The House Ethics Committee has unanimously concluded that House member, California Democrat Laura Richardson, was found to have "violated" the law and was fined $10,000 for misconduct.
Richardson, who is seeking another term in November, was accused of pressuring staffers to work for her campaign. The committee said it had "substantial reason to believe that Representative Laura Richardson violated the Purpose Law...." This will trigger a floor vote to sanction her.
As part of an agreement with the committee, Richardson admitted to all seven counts of allegations against her.
The Ethics Committee established an investigative subcommittee in November of last year to investigate her use of official staff for campaign purposes, which is against House rules. Staffers in many offices leave the congressional office to work for campaigns, but working for both is not permitted.
The committee said in a statement that she was "improperly using House resources for campaign, personal, and nonofficial purposes; by requiring or compelling her official staff to perform campaign work."
The committee also found she obstructed the investigation by the Ethics Committee through "the alteration or destruction of evidence, the deliberate failure to produce documents responsive to requests for information and a subpoena, and attempting to influence the testimony of witnesses."
The fine must be paid no later than Dec. 1, 2012. The committee also strongly discouraged Richardson from permitting any of her official staff to perform work on her campaign -- either on a paid or volunteer basis.
Castro, 37 -- a Harvard Law and Stanford grad, who will be the first Hispanic to deliver the address -- is largely unknown to a national audience. But looking at past speeches and videos, his personality, humor, and ability to deliver a stirring speech that draws on his compelling personal story are clear.
The Obama campaign has watched Castro closely, made him a campaign co-chairman, and says he has been effective on the campaign trail for the president.
And then there was his public spat with Charles Barkley, the former NBA basketball player who criticized San Antonio, particularly its women. Castro fired back in a YouTube video that went viral and even won over Barkley.
'Somebody who won't screw up'
Castro’s keynote speech in Texas last month reflected the seriousness and potential of someone who has won plaudits like this:
“People look at him and say, ‘Finally, we have somebody who won’t screw up,’” John A. Garcia, a political science professor at the University of Arizona, told the New York Times magazine in 2010. Of course, he’s still young, and he might be too good to be true, but if I were betting on the next national Hispanic political leader, I’d bet on Julián.”
Of course, in the current political climate in Texas, it is difficult for a Democrat to break through, at least for now. Even though the majority of voters are minorities in the Lone Star State, none of its statewide officeholders are Democrats.
Belief in government
There was plenty in Castro’s Texas convention keynote about the American Dream, but rather than making his story solely about his own drive, determination, and individual responsibility, he laid out what government needs to do to help pave the way of fairness, including on education, infrastructure, and new technology.
Castro supports affirmative action, he has said, because it gave him and his identical twin brother, Joaquín, the opportunity to go to elite colleges. Joaquín -- who, like his brother, also went to Stanford and Harvard -- is a state representative favored to win the open 20thcongressional district seat to replace retiring longtime Rep. Charlie Gonzalez (D).
“Joaquín and I got into Stanford because of affirmative action,” Castro told the New York Times. “I scored 1,210 on my SATs, which was lower than the median matriculating student. But I did fine in college and in law school. So did Joaquín. I’m a strong supporter of affirmative action, because I’ve seen it work in my own life.”
What he might say
Castro strives for the similar unity rhetoric that made Obama famous. Here he was in that speech before Texas Democrats:
“In San Antonio, collaboration is our currency. … These days we hear a lot of talk about how Americans are tired of politics. They’re disillusioned with government, but I think the real issue is that Americans are tired of politicians battling over manufactured issues instead of solving real ones.”
But he also lays blame at the feet of Republicans:
“Today’s Republican Party is leaving just about everyone behind. To them, compromise is a non-starter. Moderate is a four-letter word. You see folks are reevaluating their past political allegiances because people are fed up with the politics of division. They’re fed up with the politics of exclusion. They’re fed up with petty politics. And they’re fed up with Perry politics.”
And he tries to undercut what they stand for:
“Republicans haven’t just departed from the mainstream, they’ve departed from mainstream values. Since when does cutting health care for children make you the party of family values? Since when does denying women their basic rights make you the party of freedom and liberty? Since when does smoke-and-mirrors budgeting make you the party of fiscal accountability?”
He also gives Democrats want they want to hear -- about education, abortion, and immigration.
“We believe the real emergency is getting more students across the graduation stage not frivolous voter ID laws. We believe that veterans who risk their lives for us shouldn’t have to come home and fight for their own livelihoods here. We believe that woman’s right to privacy is a right to privacy is an individual liberty not a political wedge issue. We believe that it’s more important to build bridges to send Texas products across the world than to build a wall that cuts us off from it.”
He pivots from state politics to lay out the choice in the presidential election:
“This year’s presidential election will provide a very clear choice. President Obama inherited the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. He acted to keep thousands of Texas teachers in the classroom and cops on the beat and made investments in the industries for the future. The president made a bold call to save our auto industry. And today, they’re back at work, making the best cars in the world.”
He seems to have the talking points down. During the speech, he touted private-sector job growth under Obama, including manufacturing jobs because of the auto bailout. He hit presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney for “Let Detroit go bankrupt” and Massachusetts being “47th in job creation.”
He defended Obama’s health law, ending the war in Iraq, and killing Osama bin Laden. Sounding a lot like First Lady Michelle Obamabefore the president’s kickoff speech at Ohio State, he also called on the Democratic activists to do the grassroots work:
“We must reelect President Obama. In your neighborhoods, in your cities, in your counties, in your communities, get out there. Knock on doors. Call your friends. Text them. Tweet them. Email them. Heck, maybe even speak to them face to face. Do everything that you gotta do to get President Obama reelected in November.”
Toward the conclusion of his speech, he reached for the kind of rhetoric that can translate on a national stage.
A compelling personal story:
“I told you about my mother. Now I want to tell you about my grandmother, Victoria. By the time she was 6-years old, my grandmother was an orphan. She had to leave her home in Mexico to come to San Antonio with relatives who had agreed to take her in. My grandmother never made it past the third grade. She had to drop out of school to start working and help support her family. By the time, I was born, this incredible woman had taught herself to read and write in Spanish and English. She spent her whole life working because of her lack of education as a maid, a cook, and a babysitter – barely scraping by but still working hard to give my mother a good chance in life, so that my mother could give me an my brother an even better shot.
“My grandmother was a fantastic cook. By the way, a skill that never really transferred to Joaquín or me. And the day before Joaquín and I were born, she won $300 in a Menudo cook off. And that money came in pretty handy. In fact, she used it to help pay a hospital bill. My grandmother didn’t live to see us enter public service. But she probably would have found it extraordinary that just two generations after she got to San Antonio one grandson would be the mayor and the other would be on his way to the United States Congress.”
Reverence for America:
“My family story is not special. What’s special is the America that’s made our possible. This is a nation like no other with unlimited potential. And a Texas where great journeys can be made in just the space of a generation.
Outlining the choice ahead:
“Today, Erica and I are the parents of a precious little girl. Carina Victoria. Now, I love my job. But I love even getting home at the end of the day and seeing her big smile and getting an even bigger hug. All of the time, I ask the questions that all of us parents wonder about – what will her life hold? What will her Texas look like? What America will she inherit? Will it shine with opportunity and possibility? Or be damaged and decayed? Will our Texas be left behind or will we shepherd America to its greatest days yet? We cannot leave the answers to chance! It shouldn’t be a coin toss!"
And a call to action (one could insert “America” for “Texas” in many spots, “Ohio” for “Panhandle,” “Florida” for “Rio Grande Valley”):
“So tonight, the future of Texas is calling on us -- from the Panhandle to the Rio Grande Valley. The need for common-sense values has never been more urgent. The future is calling us. Across the country, as he campaigns for reelection, President Obama is asking folks a very simple question: ‘Are you in?’ In fighting for our party’s future, for our state’s future, Texas Democrats, I ask you the same thing. Houston, are you in? Dallas, are you in? The valley, are you in? El Paso, are you in? San Antonio, are you in? Tonight, let us stand up as one party, one state, one Texas, and proudly say, We. Are. In! The future of Texas is calling on us. And we’re answering that call. Vamanos!”
GOP to also feature Latinos
Republicans at their convention a week earlier will also prominently highlight Latinos. They have plenty of elected Republican Hispanics to choose from, including Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL); Ted Cruz (R-TX), who’s the heavy favorite to become Texas’ next senator after his win last night in the Texas GOP primary; popular New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez; Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval; and current Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID).
Rubio’s and Cruz’s roots are from Cuba; Martinez and Sandoval trace theirs to Mexico; and Labrador’s family is from Puerto Rico.
According to the U.S. Census, Mexicans are the largest Hispanic group and the largest-growing group:
“About three-quarters of Hispanics in the United States reported as Mexican, Puerto Rican or Cuban origin in the 2010 Census. Mexican origin was the largest group, representing 63 percent of the total U.S. Hispanic population — up from 58 percent in 2000. This group increased by 54 percent and saw the largest numeric change (11.2 million), growing from 20.6 million in 2000 to 31.8 million in 2010. Mexicans accounted for about three-fourths of the 15.2 million increase in the total Hispanic population between 2000 and 2010. The Mexican origin population represented the largest Hispanic group in 40 states, with more than half of these states in the South and West regions of the country, along with two states in the Northeast and all 12 states in the Midwest.”
“Hispanics are going to play a very prominent role in both conventions,” a GOP strategist told First Read. “The Republican Party has now run a lot prominent elected Hispanics. … . In Texas, it elected a U.S. senator, and he’s conservative, and he’s Hispanic.”
The strategist, referring to Cruz, said Cruz may be Cuban, but he “is going to represent a whole heck of a lot of Mexican Americans.”
The strategist added, “I don’t foresee any problem with our ability to be able to communicate to this audience broadly and in a more narrow fashion. And we can do it with more authority than we’ve ever done it as a party.”
The strategist noted that it’s no longer top-down white party officials telling Hispanics they should join the GOP: it’s “Latinos who have done it and are doing it. We’re in a very strong position. There’s a reason Democrats put this guy up -- it’s because they know that.”
The Obama campaign, however, believes that Castro represents the differing economic visions between the parties.
“Mayor Castro is a rising leader in the party who has worked tirelessly to build San Antonio’s economy from the middle class out, by making investments in things like clean energy and innovative education programs that will lead to the creation of good-paying, sustainable jobs you can raise a family on,” Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said. “Having both the First Lady and Mayor Castro speak on the opening night of our convention will bring together two incredible leaders whose life stories both embody the promise of America -- that if you work hard and play by the rules, you can thrive.”
Defending the women of San Antonio from Charles Barkley
Charles Barkley outraged San Antonians two years ago when, on television, he criticized the city, especially its women.
“As much as I love San Antonio -- a great city, I’m not gonna miss it,” Barkley said. “One thing about San Antonio, them women down there, they got— My ass, my ass would look normal down there. I wanna tell you somethin’ -- they ain’t got no skinny women down there.”
The comment during TNT’s broadcast left analysts in the studio slack jawed. But Barkley reiterated it again this past May during the NBA playoffs: "Everyone knows San Antonio is a great city... They do have some big ol' women down here."
Castro had had enough. But rather than a huffy call for Barkley to apologize, Castro took to the camera and YouTube for a “Hey Chuck!”smack down that went viral. Castro ragged on Barkley’s fitness, lack of championship rings, and a horrifically awkward golf swing.
“You’ve not always been very kind in describing the women of San Antonio,” Castro says in the video. “Come to think of it, maybe that’s because we have a very different idea of what a beautiful woman looks like,” Castro deadpans when up pops a photo of Barkley dressed in drag.
Castro saved his best line for after playing video of Barkley’s golf swing: “Actually, that has nothing do with San Antonio. We just thought it was funny.”
“I never met a mayor with a sense of humor before,” Barkley told Castro. “I want to thank you for taking the time for making that video. It was funny.”
He even changed his tune on other matters: “I like the women,” Barkley said, and he picked the Spurs to win in the playoffs.
In showcasing someone like Castro, Democrats hope to energize the base and also signal to the majority of Hispanics which party is looking out for them. One thing is clear -- both parties are well aware of Latino growth and know they need to make sure Hispanics are featured prominently.
The Democratic Party is set to include a pro-gay-marriage plank in their party convention platform, according to a Democratic source.
The language was included as the first step in the platform process. The platform drafting committee met in Minneapolis this past weekend. Next, the full platform committee will be consider it in Detroit in two weeks and then, it will go to the convention delegates in Charlotte for final approval.
No specific language of the platform plank was made available.
The Washington Blade, which broke the news, also reported -- and the source confirms -- that it was approved unanimously and "the platform approved on Sunday not only backs marriage equality, but also rejects DOMA and has positive language with regard to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act."
*** UPDATE *** NBC's Domenico Montanaro notes: The National Republican Senatorial Committee points to a Wall Street Journal report in May which notes Democratic Senate candidates who have not backed the president's position on gay marriage.
"The below Wall Street Journal article from this past May includes the names of a number of Democratic Senators and candidates that you might consider asking for their reaction to this news today…," the NRSC notes in an email.
"Sen. Jon Tester in Montana, Sen. Claire McCaskill in Missouri and former Gov. Tim Kaine in Virginia have declined to support same-sex marriage, even as Mr. Obama's backing has galvanized the party's liberal wing and activist ranks. Even senators facing less-competitive races—Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Bill Nelson of Florida—have sought distance from Mr. Obama on same-sex marriage."
Democrats maintain a 53-47 advantage in the Senate, including two Independents who caucus with the Democrats. Control is up for grabs this fall with Democrats on defense in many races.
While Democrats and rivals are having fun with this and continuing to try and fuel a narrative, the buzz around this has died down considerably today and you wonder when -- or if -- it jumps the shark.
By the way, CNBC reports that the biggest benefactor from all this might be the maker of the toy.
It reports: Ohio Art, the company that makes Etch A Sketch, saw its stock jump up a whopping 212.5 percent today.