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Decoder Buzz

Government is serious. Democracy is sacred. And then there is the politics that actually gets people talking. Decoder Buzz adds a dash of perspective to the stories that are setting tongues wagging. 

Former astronaut Mark Kelly fires a .22-caliber handgun left-handed at a shooting range on Tuesday, July 2, 2013, in Anchorage, Alaska. Kelly is the husband of former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who survived a 2011 assassination attempt. Giffords, whose right arm is paralyzed, fired a gun left-handed Monday in Nevada and Kelly said he promised her he would try shooting that way Tuesday. (Dan Joling/AP)

Gun control: Can Gabby Giffords win over gun owners by firing off some shots?

By Correspondent / 07.02.13

Former Rep. Gabby Giffords, the Arizona Democrat who was shot more than two years ago by a disturbed young man, this week launched her latest push for expanded background checks for firearms purchases by firing a gun herself.

Ms. Giffords and her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, debuted their seven-state, seven-day “Rights and Responsibilities Tour” at a Las Vegas shooting range on Monday before traveling to Alaska on Tuesday.

Is this move a sign of Giffords’ commitment to her mission? Yes, most certainly. It was, after all, the first time she’d fired a weapon since the attack in Tucson. Politically sound tactics or not, she surely had to wrestle with her own feelings about holding a gun again. And she did run the risk of alienating some gun control supporters who might have found the visual too much to take.

It’s an indication, no doubt, too, of the always-charged political sensitivities around the gun control debate. Even Giffords, who faces a long battle to regain movement and speech, must reaffirm her pro-gun status in order to advocate for more gun restrictions.

Certainly the move – or public relations stunt, depending on your view – was provocative enough to draw attention anew to an issue that Congress turned away from earlier this year.

In April, a bipartisan bill that would have imposed tougher background check requirements failed in the Senate, succumbing to a successful campaign by the National Rifle Association and others and stunning those families of the victims of the Newtown and Virginia Tech school shootings who had become activists for the cause.

After the vote, President Obama, who had pushed vigorously for the legislation, chastised the gun lobby for a misleading public campaign at the center of which was a suggestion that the bill’s supporters wanted to take away people’s guns.

“All in all, this was a pretty shameful day for Washington,” Mr. Obama said at a Rose Garden ceremony with Giffords by his side. He promised that “this effort is not over.”

For Giffords and Mr. Kelly the fight continues unabated. Their current trip is taking them to states with lawmakers who declined to support that congressional legislation: In addition to Nevada and Alaska, they are North Dakota, Ohio, and New Hampshire. Visits to Maine and North Carolina are also scheduled to thank officials  – namely Republican Sen. Susan Collins and Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan – for their support.

In an op-ed in USA Today authored by Giffords and advocating “common-sense measures,” she says she’s a “patriot” who believes in the Second Amendment, but that with rights come responsibilities. She points to a January CBS News/ New York Times poll that found that 92 percent of Americans support background checks for all potential gun buyers. And she notes that the initiative she promotes is popular in states with high percentages of gun owners. The data, she says “show that gun owners can support gun safety, and Americans without guns can support gun owners.”

“We own guns, we use them and we treat them with great care,” she writes in the July 1 piece. “But when children are gunned down in their classrooms, when families are slaughtered at a movie theater, when a little girl dreaming of running for office is shot dead standing next to me in a grocery store parking lot, we have to admit what we’re doing is not enough. We’ve all got to do more to reduce gun violence.”

Giffords, who was shot in January 2011 by Jared Lee Loughner at a constituent event in her district, is trying to highlight the votes of those lawmakers who might be out of sync with public opinion in their states and whose support could make the difference. Those in Giffords’ sights include Nevada Sen. Dean Heller (R); Alaska Sen. Mark Begich (D); New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R), Ohio Sen. Rob Portman (R); and North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D).

“We’ll celebrate those who vote yes,” Giffords writes, “and we’ll notice those who ignored their constituents.”

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and President Obama walk along the boardwalk in Point Pleasant, N.J., during and inspection tour of the Jersey Shore's recovery from Hurricane Sandy, May 28. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP/File)

Chris Christie bromance with Barack Obama: Is it breaking up?

By Staff writer / 07.02.13

Chris Christie and Barack Obama – once, they looked so comfortable together. Governor Christie praised the president for all the help he steered New Jersey’s way after superstorm Sandy, giving him a metaphorical pat on the back just weeks before the 2012 election. In May, they exchanged bro-hugs and took a stroll down the Jersey shore boardwalk. Christie even gave Mr. Obama a teddy bear from a concessionaire.

Now, it’s over. Christie last week hit Obama as someone “who can’t figure out how to lead." At a town hall meeting, he opined that he disagreed with the president “95 percent of the time," and that he’d really wanted Mitt Romney in the White House.

“I didn’t want [Obama] to be president but it wasn’t my choice,” Christie told the forum. Curtly.

No, this story is not a lament for a bromance gone bad. It’s a reminder that in politics virtually all public relationships are based on expedience, policy, and power relationships.

Christie no longer needs a rush on federal recovery cash. He’s defaulted to his original position, which is to say, he’s a Republican. He lamented the US Supreme Court’s big gay marriage decisions of last month, for example, decisions many Democrats celebrated.

“Incredibly insulting,” Christie said of the high court’s striking down the federal Defense of Marriage Act. “It’s just another example of judicial supremacy rather than having the government run by the people we actually vote for.”

Does this mean Christie is actually a conservative? That’s what some on the left charge. Christie’s well-publicized embrace of Obama was all part of an act that fools Jersey voters into thinking he’s middle of the road, writes Kathleen Geier in the Washington Monthly’s Political Animal blog.

“For every occasionally decent gesture ... there tend to be at least a half dozen other acts that are fairly heinous,” Ms. Geier charges, such as Christie's veto of funding for Planned Parenthood.

But many conservatives themselves still see Christie as a squish. At the right-leaning RedState site, blogger Allahpundit writes that the Jersey governor’s criticisms of the DOMA decision mean he’s going to run for president and may be trying to get back in the right’s good graces.

“Christie’s problem here is that culturally, as a northeastern Republican, and politically, by virtue of his many recent antagonisms with the right his conservative bona fides is suspect,” writes Allahpundit.

Christie’s actions dealing with the Affordable Care Act, aka “Obamacare," are perhaps a good example of the narrow line Christie tries to walk as a Republican in a state that Obama won by almost 20 percentage points.

Christie is accepting federal money for the expansion of Medicaid called for under Obamacare, and allowing that expansion to proceed. That’s something some conservative governors, such as Maine’s Paul LePage, have refused to do.

Yet last week, Christie vetoed a bill that would have made that Medicaid expansion permanent. The reason? He says he wants the flexibility to bail out of the arrangement if the feds change the rules.

Gay marriage may prove a more difficult policy challenge for the New Jersey chief executive, writes Matthew Cooper in National Journal.

New Jersey voters approve of gay marriage, according to polls. Yet Christie vetoed a same-sex marriage bill in 2012. His blast at the DOMA decision shows he has not changed his mind on the issue.

At the same time he’s said he would abide by the results of a gay marriage ballot initiative.

If he truly wants to win the GOP nomination for 2016, he may have to continue to oppose gay marriage, whatever his state’s voters want, writes Mr. Cooper.

“His home state may support gay marriage but the activists who pick Republican presidential nominees surely do not. And he hasn’t done any favors for them lately,” Cooper writes.

First lady Michelle Obama (l.) and former first lady Laura Bush look to each other as they participate in the African First Ladies Summit: 'Investing in Women: Strengthening Africa,' hosted by the George W. Bush Institute, Tuesday, July 2, in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

Michelle Obama, Laura Bush unite to talk about African women – and hair

By Correspondent / 07.02.13

It’s not often that first ladies former and present gather to draw attention to an issue for which they share a passion. It’s even rarer to see that event take place a world away and at the behest of a past president.

First lady Michelle Obama and her predecessor, Laura Bush, shared a stage Tuesday in Tanzania at the African First Ladies Summit, hosted by the George W. Bush Institute and focused, as its subtitle suggests, on “Investing in Women: Strengthening Africa.”

It was an opportunity to chat publicly about the influence of the job, and its drawbacks, and to put politics aside to highlight the importance of building up women, economically and otherwise – a cause in which the Bushes and the Obamas have both staked an interest. Politico called the event a first ladies edition of the television gabfest “The View.”

The first ladies of Ethiopia, Mozambique, South Africa, and Tanzania were all on hand, according to Voice of America, with more expected later in the conference. Mrs. Obama retweeted this picture of herself with a smiling Mrs. Bush and moderator Cokie Roberts.

Together, Obama and Bush spoke of how education, improved access to health care, and economic opportunity will boost prospects for the continent’s women and girls. When women do well, Bush suggested, the fates of nations improve overall.

“We’re highlighting support for women at this summit because at all levels and in all parts of society, women play a critical role,” Bush said.

Obama hit on a riff probably familiar to her stump-speech audiences in the US when she said it was her parents’ emphasis on education that helped shape the course of her adult life.

“I was a girl who grew up on the South Side of Chicago. My parents didn’t have much money, but they invested in my education," she said. "And they invested in my education as equally as they did my brother; there was no different bar. And as a result of that training and preparation I have had opportunities, and I am sitting here right now as the first lady of the United States of America because of education.”

Obama and Bush also lamented one of the downsides of being first lady – specifically, a focus on appearance, clothes and hair, over the substance of their work. In many ways, this makes them no different from women around the globe who would like to see less emphasis on their looks, or their daughters’, and more on their smarts, accomplishments, and personal attributes.

During this conversation, Obama and Bush drew laughter for an exchange about the media coverage – over-coverage? – of Obama’s decision to cut her bangs.

“I was doing what Barbara was doing,” the first lady said, referring to Bush’s daughter, who also recently trimmed her hair. “I was just following her lead. But we take our bangs and we stand in front of important things that the world needs to see. And eventually, people stop looking at the bangs and they start looking at what we're standing in front of.”

“We hope,” Bush said.

Obama responded, “They do, and that's the power of our roles.”

Though Obama said being first lady is “the best job in the world,” she noted that it has “prisonlike elements” to it. Still, she said, “You can’t complain.”

As if to underscore their points, The Huffington Post ran a slide show Tuesday focused on the style of the first ladies. “Michelle Obama and Laura Bush played host in outfits that were classically ‘them’: Laura in solid red, Michelle in a print,” an intro read.

Despite the talk of their apparel, there is something almost joyful in watching sometimes political adversaries link arms to pull the often fleeting attention span of the world’s news consumers to issues of shared concern. It happens all too infrequently, here and abroad. It’s safer, in a way, to connect so far from the nation’s capital, where the dynamics of the latest political debates often forge adversarial rather than cooperative relationships, and cable chatter promotes dissent over agreement.

The first ladies smiled and joked. They looked loose and largely appreciative of each other’s company.

Tanzania was the Obamas' last stop before returning home after a tour of Africa. The Bushes are there for the conference, which is sponsored by ExxonMobil. Former President Bush also joined President Obama Tuesday for a wreath-laying ceremony at the site of the 1998 bombing of the US Embassy in Dar es Salaam.

It was coincidence that brought both couples to the continent at the same time, and they each took the opportunity to find avenues for modest partnership. Initially, at least, the first ladies were scheduled to meet, but not the presidents.

"They're learning from us," Mrs. Obama said to Mrs. Bush during the summit.

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (r. in red) signs a poster held by her husband, Todd Palin (l.), on behalf of a supporter during the Faith and Freedom Coalition Road to Majority 2013 conference in Washington last month. Ms. Palin, the conference's final speaker, rejected calls for an immigration overhaul that includes a path to citizenship for immigrants in the country illegally. (Carolyn Kaster/AP/File)

Why is Sarah Palin saying she might leave the GOP? (+video)

By Staff writer / 07.01.13

Is Sarah Palin thinking about bolting the GOP to help found a new conservative US political party? That’s sure what it sounded like on Saturday when the subject arose in the course of a Fox News interview. Via Twitter, a viewer asked her if she’d consider creating a “Freedom Party” with right-leaning radio host Mark Levin. Her reply was that, yes indeed, maybe it’s time for a revolt.

If Republican leaders continue to “back away from the planks in our platform” and the principles on which the party of Lincoln and Reagan was founded, then rank-and-file Republicans with a “libertarian streak” might strike out on their own, Ms. Palin said.

“I love the name of that party, the ‘Freedom Party,’ ” said the ex-Alaska governor.

Palin has long had problems with mainstream D.C. Republicans – her complaints about “crony capitalism” seem directed at both parties – but the particular item that’s now got her going is the immigration reform bill, and the support of some Republicans, such as Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, for same.

On her Facebook page last week, Palin lamented Senate passage of the immigration “amnesty” measure and worried that the House might follow suit. She called it a “sad betrayal of working class Americans of every ethnicity who will see their wages lowered."

Republicans are rushing to appear more Hispanic-friendly, but it wasn’t lack of Hispanic supporters that kept Mitt Romney out of the White House, wrote Palin.

“It was the loss of working class voters in swing states that cost us the 2012 election, not the Hispanic vote,” she posted.

If the immigration reform bill becomes law, then both parties will have shown they are out-of-touch, arrogant, and dysfunctional, according to the former VP candidate. And if that’s the case, maybe it’s time to found a new party, she implied.

“Folks like me are barely hanging on to our enlistment papers in any political party,” Palin wrote.

Well, we’ve got a couple of thoughts here, unsurprisingly. The first is that, in this instance, it is way too easy to resort to a cheap “Going rogue?” segue or subhead. We won’t do it and anybody who does should be ashamed of themselves. Nor will we suggest “Mavericks” as a new party name. That’s already taken.

The second is that we doubt Palin will actually leave the GOP. She’s clearly more of a speechifier than an administrator, and she’ll get more Fox airtime with “GOP” as part of her tag line. Talking about dropping out is good, though – it brings attention.

Third is that she’s got a point there with the election analysis. An interesting recent series by RealClearPolitics senior analyst Sean Trende shows that the current conventional wisdom about the 2012 result, which emphasizes President Obama’s gains from black and Hispanic voters, is somewhat incorrect. The biggest reason Romney lost was a decline in white voters from 2008 to 2012, according to Mr. Trende’s analysis. And the missing white voters were generally downscale, rural Northern whites.

Supporting the passage of an immigration bill might help Republicans at the polls, or it might be good on its merits, but it isn’t a GOP must-do, Trende writes.

“It simply isn’t necessary for them to do so and remain a viable political force,” according to Trende.

Finally, yes, Sarah Palin was for immigration reform before she was against it. She supported something very like today’s bill as part of Sen. John McCain’s 2008 ticket.

But didn’t Mr. Obama used to oppose gay marriage? One person’s evolving position: It’s another person’s flip-flop.

Crowds line the streets as President Obama's motorcade travels to the State House in Dar es Salaam on Monday. On Tuesday, Mr. Obama will make a joint appearance with former President George W. Bush at a wreath-laying ceremony at the site of the 1998 bombing of the US Embassy here. (Jason Reed/Reuters)

President Obama meets George W. Bush ... in Tanzania? (+video)

By Staff writer / 07.01.13

President Obama and ex-President George W. Bush will make a joint appearance in Tanzania on Tuesday, according to the White House. They’ll participate in a wreath-laying ceremony at the site of the 1998 bombing of the US Embassy in Dar es Salaam that killed 11 people and wounded 85.

The presence of both men in Africa is a coincidence of sorts. Tanzania is the last stop of Mr. Obama’s Africa tour, and it’s also the site of a conference on aiding African women sponsored by the George W. Bush Institute.

Since the title of the conference is the “First Ladies Summit,” we’re pretty sure the White House arranged its schedule so that first lady Michelle Obama could attend the Bush-led meeting. White House officials have described the event as an important forum for promoting a larger role for women in Africa.

At least nine African first ladies are expected to attend, according to the Bush Institute, as well as Cherie Blair, wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Africa is one subject on which Obama and his predecessor often agree. Obama may have run for the White House on a platform highly critical of Mr. Bush’s economic and war policies, but he has always praised Bush’s work on AIDS relief in Africa as a life-saving effort.

In fact, in some ways Bush’s Africa policies have been a tough act for Obama to follow. The former poured money into the effort while the latter has reduced funds for Bush’s President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. Facing budget wars with Congress, the Obama administration proposed cutting funding for PEPFAR by $214 million last year, prompting criticism from AIDS activists that Obama is retreating on the Bush-era commitment.

“We think it sends a very positive message that both political parties in the United States share a commitment to this continent,” said Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes on Sunday.

That commitment also includes a military buildup. US Africa Command, one of nine unified combatant commands of the US armed forces, was established in 2007 per the recommendation of Bush security officials. Since then, it has grown to about 2,000 people, though it has little in the way of assigned military forces of its own.

As to the Dar es Salaam bombing, it occurred on Aug. 7, 1998, almost simultaneously with a bombing of the US Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya. Two-hundred-fifty-eight people died in the two attacks, most of them local workers. US intelligence fingered Al Qaeda’s East Africa leader Fazul Abdullah Mohammed as the mastermind of the attacks. He was killed in Somalia by Somali government troops on June 8, 2011.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, seen earlier this month, and other possible GOP presidential contenders have been silent thus far on the Supreme Court's DOMA ruling. (Scott Eisen/AP)

Why many 2016 GOP hopefuls are mum on Supreme Court gay marriage moves

By Correspondent / 06.26.13

Some high-profile Republicans have been drawn to the cause of marriage equality, perhaps most notably attorney Ted Olson, who represented the plaintiffs in the Proposition 8 case in California; US Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, whose son is gay; and former Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman, who recently announced after years in politics that he is gay.

But in the wake of the US Supreme Court’s landmark actions Wednesday overturning the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and dismissing an appeal brought by Prop. 8 defenders, many likely Republican presidential hopefuls are steering clear of commenting on either outcome. In what’s expected to be a crowded field of 2016 contenders, who first must woo their party's conservative base to emerge as the eventual GOP nominee, the collection of possible candidates has been largely mum.

Why? Because angry or hand-wringing remarks they make now could come back to bite them in a general election campaign, should they make it that far. And with the Republican Party struggling to court swing voters – young people and minorities, in particular – potential candidates might risk alienating potential backers.

The next presidential contest will be a test for a GOP facing a demographic challenge. Already, the immigration reform debate has created a fault line between those Republicans in favor and those against. Gay marriage is poised to do the same – not just among the candidates, but within the party, too.

So it is that the Twitter feeds of a string of possible contenders – Govs. Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal, and Nikki Haley, Sen. Ted Cruz, and former Gov. Jeb Bush, among them – were notably devoid this afternoon of any weigh-in on DOMA or Prop. 8.

Call it cyber silence.

“My mother once told me, If you don't have anything to say nice, don't say anything at all. Maybe that's the tack they are taking,” says Republican strategist John Feehery.

“Seriously, we live in uncertain times when it comes to public perceptions of how the gay marriage thing will play out,” he adds. “For many possible presidential candidates, appearing too strident on this issue could hurt with fundraising and with appealing to young voters, so for them it makes sense to stay quiet.”

Democrats, on the other hand, were jubilant, and not shy about it.

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, widely believed to be considering a presidential run, tweeted: “I applaud #SCOTUS for striking down #DOMA & affirming that the way forward is always found through equal rights & respect for human dignity”

A potential Democratic rival, Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, also registered his support: “From #Stonewall 44 yrs ago this wk, to passage of #marriageequality, to today’s decision to overturn #DOMA (orig. from NY case) #NYS leading”

Governor Cuomo took the opportunity to remind the public that his state, under his leadership, has been a leader on the issue. “Today’s decisions by the Court are groundbreaking civil rights victories for the LGBT community and a major step forward in our efforts to achieve full marriage equality in this nation,” he said in a statement. “Two years ago, New York became the largest state to enact marriage equality, and since then we have seen a growing recognition across the country that all citizens deserve equal rights under the law, regardless of sexual orientation.”

Maryland, it’s worth noting, approved a same-sex marriage law last year via ballot initiative; Governor O’Malley was a key proponent.

Vice President Joe Biden, another possible 2016 hopeful, voted for DOMA in the 1990s, but has since given his full support for marriage equality. Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s husband signed DOMA in 1996 when he was president, but she endorsed same-sex marriage this year after leaving her diplomatic post.

The Clintons issued a joint statement Wednesday: “By overturning the Defense of Marriage Act, the court recognized that discrimination towards any group holds us all back in our efforts to form a more perfect union,” they said. “We are also encouraged that marriage equality may soon return to California. We applaud the hard work of the advocates who have fought so relentlessly for this day, and congratulate Edie Windsor [the DOMA case plaintiff] on her historic victory.” 

So who are those Republicans unafraid to chime in?

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida suggests that the Supreme Court made “a serious mistake” and “should not have second guessed the will of the American people acting through their elected representatives without firm constitutional justifications.”

“The sweeping language of today’s majority opinion is more troubling than the ruling itself as it points to further interference by the Court in the years to come,” Senator Rubio said in a statement. “I recognize that the definition of marriage and the legal status of same-sex relationships is a deeply personal and emotional issue for Americans of a variety of viewpoints. These types of disagreements should be settled through the democratic process, as the Founders intended, not through litigation and court pronouncements.”

Former Sen. Rick Santorum, the Pennsylvania Republican who ran for president in 2012 and has not ruled out another bid, also chided the high court.

“I’m incredibly disappointed that the Supreme Court would continue a pattern of stepping in and making decisions that were very clearly left for the public and the Congress to make,” Mr. Santorum said during a Fox News interview.

And Sen. Rand Paul, the Kentucky Republican, affirmed his belief that “traditional” marriage is between a man and a woman, Politico reports. He said as well that the Supreme Court ruling on Proposition 8 effectively tosses the matter back to the states.

“They’re trying to say nothing, is what they’re trying to say, but in doing that the other side of the coin is there are 34 states that have decided in favor of traditional marriage,” Senator Paul said on Glenn Beck’s radio show. “Those are affirmed now. … The good side to this ruling is they have affirmed to states that this is a state issue and states can decide.”

It is Rubio’s lengthy statement, however, that inherently acknowledges the battle ahead for Republicans, like him, who – if they decide to seek the nation’s highest office – must convince voters that their opposition to same-sex marriage doesn’t reflect an underlying bias against gays and lesbians. His comments suggest that it will be difficult to plead for an expanded Republican tent while denying rights demanded by a large subset of Americans.

“My hope is that those of us who believe in the sanctity and uniqueness of traditional marriage will continue to argue for its protection in a way that is respectful to the millions of American sons and daughters who are gay,” Rubio said. “It is also my hope that those who argue for the redefinition of marriage to include same-sex marriage will refrain from assailing the millions of Americans who disagree with them as bigots.”

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks during the Clinton Global Initiative America meeting in Chicago, Illinois, June 14. A new poll of battleground Ohio shows that potential presidential hopefuls Clinton (D) and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) would tie there in 2016. (John Gress/Reuters)

Battleground Ohio: The [early] polls are in, showing a Clinton-Christie tie

By Contributor / 06.26.13

A new poll of battleground Ohio shows that potential Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Rodham Clinton would run neck-in-neck there in 2016 against New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a possible Republican contender.

If the election were held today, and former Secretary of State Clinton and Governor Christie had secured their respective party nominations, they would deadlock at 42 percent each.

The news for Vice President Joe Biden, who has also teased his interest in succeeding President Obama, isn’t nearly as sunny. Mr. Biden would be bested by Christie and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul (R), another lawmaker who is widely viewed to be considering a national candidacy. Christie tops Biden 50 percent to 32 percent in the poll; Senator Paul trumps Biden 49 percent to 40 percent.

Clinton, on the other hand, would beat back a Paul bid, 47 percent to 44 percent.

While the Quinnipiac poll tests these particular matchups, the list of other Republicans also quietly pondering a White House run is long and includes: Govs. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Nikki Haley of South Carolina; Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas, and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

Ohio has voted for every White House winner since 1964, and in 2004, its voters lifted then-President George W. Bush over the required 270 electoral vote count required for victory. President Bush, of course, defeated then-Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry (D) that year.

In the minds of those who make up the chattering class, it’s never too early to begin handicapping the next presidential contest. And with Clinton making her debut recently as an active private citizen by hitting the speaking circuit, announcing a new role via the Clinton family’s foundation, and joining Twitter, the buzz around her has grown louder. If she decides to run, it will be interesting to watch if and how she’ll clear a Democratic field that could include Biden, who has run twice previously himself, and has national name recognition and a platform of his own from which to launch a campaign.

Other Democrats waiting in the wings include New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley.

For his part, Christie has experienced a boost in national attention after making a very public appearance late last year with the president to review the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy. That photo opportunity, airing days before the 2012 White House election, reinforced perceptions of Christie as a bipartisan actor from a blue northern state who might have wider appeal; the visual also helped to buoy Obama, looking ever presidential during a national emergency, over his Republican challenger, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Christie’s star is on the rise; he recently slow jammed the news on ‘Late Night With Jimmy Fallon,’ showing a lighthearted side to himself and decent comic timing. His visibility – and seeming likability – has not been lost on Clinton or her husband, former President Bill Clinton, who invited the New Jersey governor to engage in a panel conversation during the Clintons’ recent family foundation summit in Chicago.

Perhaps the Ohio survey is missing the mark. Maybe Clinton and Christie won’t be rivals after all. Clinton could take a stab at crafting a doubly historic 2016 bid by inviting Christie to run with her. The first female president? The first unity ticket since Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson? 

Just a thought. And certainly Christie might have other ideas.

The Ohio poll, meanwhile, provides other good news for Clinton. Her favorables crest the critical 50 percent mark, while Biden’s do not. Respondents say they have a favorable view of Clinton, 52 percent to 44 percent. Biden’s numbers are upside-down, 41 percent rate him favorably, while 48 percent register an unfavorable opinion.

A last key survey item that might give the Democrats some reason to pause as they look to the next White House contest – Obama’s support in Ohio has eroded.

“Ohio was the key state in both of President Barack Obama’s elections, and it was his strong showing among independent voters there that made the difference,” says Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, in a statement. “President Obama’s fortunes in the Buckeye State have turned. Since last December, he has lost 10 points among Democrats and 17 points among independent voters. He has gone from a 20-point approval margin to a 9-point disapproval margin among female voters.”

The survey, conducted June 18-23, polled 941 registered voters and had a margin of error of 3.2 percentage points.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton addresses the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) Meeting in Chicago earlier this month. The former first lady offered her most extensive description of her post-Obama administration agenda since leaving her role as the nation's top diplomat. (Scott Eisen/AP)

Hillary Clinton weighs in on Edward Snowden: Is that appropriate?

By Correspondent / 06.25.13

In Washington, there are informal rules governing whether former public officials should weigh in on urgent policy matters occupying the dockets of their successors.

Rule No. 1: Don’t, unless called upon.

But for former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, now a private citizen, the rules don’t necessarily apply. After all, she is pondering a 2016 presidential bid, and her every move and utterance are assessed in that light. And, well, she’s a Clinton, and therefore as powerful as anyone in politics today. She and her husband, the former president, usually dictate the hows, whens, and whats of their public statements.

And so with that in mind, or so it seems, she registered her strong feelings Monday night on the biggest foreign policy matter – crisis even – facing President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry: Edward Snowden’s international quest for asylum in the wake of his disclosure of classified government surveillance tactics.

Ms. Clinton criticized China for allowing Snowden to exit Hong Kong last weekend even after the US charged him with espionage and theft.

"That kind of action is not only detrimental to the US-China relationship but it sets a bad precedent that could unravel the intricate international agreements about how countries respect the laws – and particularly the extradition treaties," the former secretary of State told an audience in Los Angeles.

Clinton’s remarks came during a 90-minute talk sponsored by the American Jewish University, according to the Associated Press. During the appearance she also said Mr. Snowden, the former Booz Allen Hamilton contractor, engaged in "outrageous behavior" in releasing details of the National Security Agency’s data collection program PRISM, which tracks citizens’ e-mails and phone calls in an effort to root out possible terrorist activity.

While Clinton is on message in a sense, echoing comments made by other administration officials, it’s not clear if she was given the go-ahead to comment. She hardly tiptoed into the broader national conversation about government surveillance and the public’s right to know. She used some seriously tough talk. Would the Obama administration suggest that what’s gone down with Snowden’s release from Hong Kong threatens to “unravel” key agreements between China and the United States?

A call to Secretary Kerry’s communications shop at the State Department was not returned.

Kerry, for his part, has indeed used some direct language of his own this week.

“It would be very disappointing if he was willfully allowed to board an airplane” from Hong Kong to Moscow, Kerry said of Snowden at a news conference in New Delhi yesterday, adding that he “would be deeply troubled” if Russia and China knew of Snowden’s plans, “and there would be, without any question, some effect and impact on the relationship and consequences.”

“I’d urge them to live within the law,” Kerry added. “It’s in the interest of everyone.”

Kerry said, too, that “people may die as a consequence” of what Snowden has revealed.

So the newly minted secretary of State hasn’t exactly been absent from the administration’s efforts to advise world leaders who might be pondering whether Snowden should be extradited to the US. Clinton isn’t filling a void there, but with the spotlight she draws with every appearance and declaration, she risks eclipsing Kerry.

Still, for her long-term purposes, she’s likely reminding folks, in case they’d already forgotten, that she knows a thing or two about the complicated relationship with China and that she has something to say about our national security policies.

Meanwhile, Clinton has made more of her own news of late, stoking speculation that she’s prepping for a White House bid. She joined Twitter to much discussion. She gave a policy speech in Chicago outlining her renewed effort via the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation to tackle economic equity issues for women and launch an early childhood development initiative. And she told an audience in Toronto that she’d like to see a woman in the Oval Office.

"Let me say this, hypothetically speaking, I really do hope that we have a woman president in my lifetime," Clinton said last weekend. "And whether it's next time or the next time after that, it really depends on women stepping up and subjecting themselves to the political process, which is very difficult."

But she’s not president yet, and she’s no longer secretary of State, though one could be forgiven for forgetting that in recent days.

An endangered red panda named Rusty is seen in this undated handout photo released by the Smithsonian National Zoo on Monday. Rusty had disappeared from the Smithsonian National Zoo a few weeks after it went on display, but was recovered in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington. (Abby Wood/Smithsonian National Zoo/Reuters/Handout)

Rusty the red panda: The Edward Snowden of zoo animals? (+video)

By Staff writer / 06.24.13

First Ed Snowden, then Rusty the red panda. They were both on the lam Monday, and like everything else connected to Washington, there was a political angle.

At the National Zoo, Rusty the red panda – not to be confused with his more famous zoo-mates, the giant pandas – was last seen at 6 p.m. Sunday. By Monday morning, the zoo had put out an all-points bulletin, alerting the public and warning that if found, to exercise caution. If cornered, Rusty could bite.

At 2:24 p.m. Eastern time, the zoo tweeted out that Rusty had been captured safe and sound, put in a crate and was heading back to the zoo. Turns out he had made it all the way to 20th and Biltmore Streets NW, in the nearby neighborhood of Adams Morgan, according to The Washington Post.  

It’s not Hong Kong or Russia, but for a little red panda to escape all the zoo’s security measures, including his enclosure’s mildly electrified “hot wires,” is a pretty good trick.

Mr. Snowden, the former government contractor charged with leaking top secret national security information, is still at large, presumably somewhere in Russia, after boarding a flight Sunday from Hong Kong to Moscow. He had been booked onto a flight to Cuba on Monday, but was a no-show.

And for a few hours Monday, Snowden was the perfect foil for Rusty the red panda. In a flash, Rusty became the second most famous fugitive on the planet.

“Snowden isn’t the only one on the run,” tweeted Mary Bruce, ABC News White House producer.

“What does @RustyRedPanda know, and when did he know it?” tweeted David Clinch, executive editor at Storyful, suggesting maybe Rusty was up to no good.  

In another tweet, Mr. Clinch fueled the Rusty-as-Snowden meme: “Has anyone photo-shopped picture @RustyRedPanda into 17a on Aeroflot flight yet?” – referencing the seat that was reserved for Snowden on the Moscow-Havana flight.

Predictably, famous zoo-lover Newt Gingrich chimed in: “In response to red panda charges, I have an alibi,” the former House speaker and presidential candidate tweeted. “Callista and I were feeding our pet elephant all evening (just a joke) help find panda.”

And like all good Washington stories, Rusty made the White House’s daily briefing.

“Anything on the red panda?” a reporter asked Jay Carney in the final question of the day, sparking laughter.

Even though Rusty has been found, we will probably never know the full story – like how he got out and what route he took to get to 20th and Biltmore. And why? Why did he bolt? Rusty came to the National Zoo only in late April from a zoo in Lincoln, Neb. The zoo here plans to breed him with its female red panda, Shama, according to the Post.

Maybe it wasn’t working out between the two. Just like Snowden’s girlfriend, who got left behind when he fled to Hong Kong.

The latest tweet from the zoo, posted at 3:24 p.m., reports that Rusty is at the zoo’s vet hospital getting checked out.

As for Snowden, stay tuned. 

US Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) departs following the weekly Republican caucus luncheon at the US Capitol on Tuesday. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Immigration reform: Can a supporter win GOP nomination in 2016?

By Correspondent / 06.21.13

Hanging over the Washington battle about immigration reform is the dicey question of how the issue might affect the White House hopes of those Republicans supporting the legislation. Namely, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and former Sunshine State governor Jeb Bush.

One broader political narrative in play is that the GOP must make a move to woo the nation’s growing Hispanic voter population – and that if lawmakers stand in the way of reform, they’re further alienating citizens who have already shown a deepening allegiance to the Democratic Party. Hispanics twice backed Barack Obama’s presidential campaign.

But in key early caucus and primary states, Iowa in particular, Republican primary voters are socially conservative, largely white, and prone to supporting firebrands who rail against abortion, for example, and to courting Evangelicals. They wrap themselves in the flag. Often effectively.

See winners like Mike Huckabee in Iowa (2008) and Pat Buchanan in New Hampshire (1996).

So for Republicans, there’s an obvious tension in positioning around the immigration issue. Should GOP hopefuls aim to win 2016 primary contests with an anti-immigration reform stance that could potentially turn off valuable general-election swing voters? Think potential White House wannabes Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas, who have made clear their views against reform and for a stronger border.

Or is it perhaps more politically astute to think long, carve out some middle ground on the issue, and seek compromise with Democrats?

“Pro-reform candidates could have a hard time in the caucuses and primaries, but let’s remember there are other issues that drive activists, too,” says David Yepsen, a longtime Des Moines Register political reporter. “Electability in November and likability on the stump are two.”

After two White House losses, Republicans will be “hungry” to win come November 2016, says Mr. Yepsen, now director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. One consideration: If immigration reform passes soon, that leaves at least two years before a presidential primary campaign gets going in earnest. Voters are likely to turn their attention to other issues by then. In other words, the fervor over this debate might fade.

“If a candidate puts together a package that’s attractive overall, some hard-liners may overlook a single issue in favor of getting a candidate who might actually stand a chance of winning,” Yepsen says.  

In New Hampshire, where Democrats hold the governor’s office and three of four congressional assignments, the immigration reform issue doesn’t read as it might in more-conservative states, says Dante Scala, an associate professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire in Durham.

The state, which holds America’s first primary, is typically “less isolationist, more internationally oriented,” Professor Scala says. It’s not primarily a white, working-class state; manufacturing jobs have dried up. Instead, the Granite State tends to boast a strong high-tech industry and well-educated residents. Many in the business community have weighed in favorably in support of immigration reform. All reasons, among others, that the state’s lone congressional Republican – Sen. Kelly Ayotte – is on board.

“Look at the last two New Hampshire [primary] winners – [John] McCain, Romney: They’re much more center-right Republicans, and inasmuch as immigration reform is becoming an acceptable mainstream Republican position, people who are outside and make a point of it, I think that might damage people’s enthusiasm” for candidates with such views, Scala says.

The national numbers themselves tell an important story for candidates as they begin to think about how to distinguish themselves from what is expected to be a crowded pack of Republican aspirants. Among Latinos in 2012, Mr. Obama bested his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, 71 percent to 27 percent. And the number of registered Latino voters is on the rise: Between the 2008 and 2012 contests, it increased by 26 percent.

So perhaps Senators Paul and Cruz and other like-minded Republicans with their eyes on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue should heed GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham’s caution. He hails from South Carolina, which holds the third contest for the presidential nomination and whose primary voters skew decidedly conservative. Earlier this month, Senator Graham said the GOP is in a “demographic death spiral.”

"If we don't pass immigration reform, if we don't get it off the table in a reasonable, practical way, it doesn't matter who you run in 2016," he said on NBC's "Meet the Press.”

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