Clay Aiken is indeed running for Congress from his home state of North Carolina. He announced his candidacy on Tuesday night after weeks of rumors that he’d try to oust incumbent Rep. Renee Ellmers (R) from her Raleigh-area 2nd District seat.
As befits a recording star and former "American Idol" runner-up, Mr. Aiken didn’t just issue a press statement. He released a five-minute video on his new campaign website in which he talks about his life story and frames his case for election.
No, he didn’t sing. Instead, Aiken talked about growing up poor as the son of a single parent: “I remember all too well Mom working nights at Sears and clothes from the thrift store." He stressed his noncelebrity background as a special-education teacher. He said he was a Democrat who had learned the benefits of working across the aisle after being appointed to an education panel by President Bush.
Then he attacked potential GOP foe Representative Ellmers from the right. Yes, you read that correctly. He said that she had voted for “massive cuts in the military” per the direction of her party leadership.
“This is what’s wrong with Washington, that a congressman would go there and vote against the best interests of North Carolina military families,” Aiken concluded.
The spot was well produced yet simple. It’s a guideline to Aiken’s apparent strategy, if he wins the primary and makes it to a general election: Run as a bipartisan-leaning problem-solver and tie Ellmers to the unpopular GOP House leadership. Plus, position yourself as the true guardian of military interests, which is pretty important for a district that neighbors Fort Bragg, one of the biggest Army bases in the United States.
Can it work? He’s got an uphill road. As we wrote last month, the North Carolina 2nd is a pretty Republican district.
It’s true that it was represented by a Democrat, Rep. Bob Etheridge, from 1997 until 2011. But in recent years, it appears to have tilted ever more to the right. Mitt Romney beat Barack Obama there by 17 points in 2012. Plus, it’s a midterm election, in which the president’s party often loses seats. University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato rates the district “safe" Republican in his Crystal Ball ratings of House races.
In fact, we figured that Aiken would pull an Ashley Judd: He’d talk about running but, in the end, decide against it, because of the high possibility of defeat. (Ms. Judd considered opposing Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky, but eventually passed up the race.)
The district’s relatively high 30 percent proportion of African-American voters is in Aiken’s favor. If he can combine that reliably Democratic constituency with a good showing among military voters, he may have a chance. Also, unlike Senator McConnell in Kentucky, Ellmers does not appear to be taking her celebrity opponent too seriously.
McConnell ran ads attacking Judd even though she was but a notional contender. So far, Ellmers has limited herself to ridiculing Aiken’s singing.
“Apparently his performing career isn’t going so well and he’s bored,” she said in a radio appearance this week.
It happened soon after interviewer and interviewee finished a lengthy discussion about the roots of poverty in America. Mr. O’Reilly wondered why Mr. Obama did not address the fact that 72 percent of African-American children are born out of wedlock, greatly increasing their chances of growing up poor. The president said he’d given at least 10 speeches on that issue and offered to send them to O’Reilly, if he hadn’t seen them.
“What’s interesting, when you look at what’s going on right now, you’re starting to see in a lot of white working-class homes, similar problems,” said Obama. “When men can’t find good work ... whether they’re black, white, Hispanic, it doesn’t matter, then that puts pressure as well on the home.”
Then, after a brief and inconclusive run through the issue of the Keystone XL pipeline, O’Reilly abruptly shifted gears.
“Do you think I’m unfair to you?” he said.
“Absolutely. Of course you are, Bill. But I like you anyway,” said Obama.
O’Reilly didn’t let things drop. He asked for specific instances of unfairness. Obama was a bit taken aback but said that in Part 1 of their interview, broadcast Sunday prior to the Super Bowl, O’Reilly had, in essence, asked if the administration was “wholly corrupt” on the IRS targeting of conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status, the rollout of "Obamacare," and the investigation of the attack in Benghazi, Libya, that killed a US ambassador.
These issues “are defined by you guys in a certain way," said Obama, referring to Fox News as a whole.
Then, the president expanded things a bit, saying that any chief executive has to be ready to take a lot of criticism. He wondered what Fox would do after his term was over.
“I’ve been a big moneymaker for you,” he said.
So was President Bill Clinton, of course, and so will ex-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, unless she declines to run. As O’Reilly noted, Fox was doing pretty well in the ratings prior to Obama’s election. There’s every reason to believe its conservative take on the news will continue to draw ratings after 2012.
The answer to the fairness question depends on where you stand on the partisan spectrum, of course. To many Democrats, Fox asks questions about Obamacare, the IRS, and (especially) Benghazi that have been answered over and over again in many interviews and days of congressional hearings. To many Republicans, Fox is keeping alive issues the mainstream press just wants to drop or that it ignored in the first place.
Obama is saying that “no one would care about four dead Americans in Benghazi and the incompetence that caused it if it weren’t for those darned kids at Fox News, or something,” writes conservative pundit Ed Morrissey at "Hot Air."
But perhaps the deeper question is: Does this matter? More specifically, does the way Fox on the right and MSNBC on the left frames issues actually push voters to take more partisan positions?
Political science doesn’t have a settled answer to this question. But studies so far indicate that partisan news media are less a cause of America’s political polarization than a symptom of it.
“People tune into partisan news because they are partisans. Even without partisan news media, these individuals would likely interpret the world through a partisan lens,” writes Kevin Arceneaux, associate professor of political science and director of the Behavioral Foundations Lab at Temple University, in a post on the “Monkey Cage” political science blog.
In one experiment, Mr. Arceneaux found that a CBS story on the IRS investigation of conservative groups was just as polarizing as Fox and MSNBC stories on the same subject. Republicans were as likely to call the IRS audits politically motivated after watching the CBS piece as they were after watching its Fox equivalent. For Democrats, the effect was the reverse: They were as likely to call the audits an innocent mistake after watching CBS as they were after watching the more pointed MSNBC story.
“Many studies illustrate that people are capable of cherry-picking the facts they wish to believe from balanced presentations,” writes Arceneaux.
There’s some evidence that polarized news media make already-polarized voters take more extreme positions. But one thing is sure: It’s a profitable business, especially for Fox. There’s no going back to the days when the dulcet tones of mainstream network anchors were the dominant voice of the American news conversation.
“Criticism is criticism. It’s my job to give you a hard time,” O’Reilly told Obama at one point in their discussion.
Sandra Fluke wants to succeed retiring Rep. Henry Waxman (D) of California. The women’s rights activist and former Georgetown Law student, whom Rush Limbaugh called a “slut” on his radio show in 2012, has filed with the state Democratic Party seeking its endorsement for the upcoming race.
She hasn’t officially announced her effort or filed papers with the Federal Election Commission, according to The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake, who broke the Fluke news.
“But filing for the state party’s endorsement means she’s officially part of the process,” Mr. Blake writes.
Ms. Fluke came to national prominence after testifying before a House Democratic panel two years ago, pushing for health insurers to include contraception coverage as part of the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare."
At the time, lawmakers were looking at the ACA clause that allows religious institutions to opt out of including contraception in their health plans if they wish. Fluke talked about her experience as a student at Georgetown, a Catholic university that did not include birth control in its health coverage.
This exclusion caused “financial, emotional, and medical burdens” for female students at Georgetown, Fluke told Democrats after Republicans denied her bid to testify before a full House committee.
Shortly thereafter on his show, Mr. Limbaugh said of Fluke’s assertion, “It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute.”
Uproar followed, with some top Republicans disowning Limbaugh’s choice of words. The radio host eventually apologized, but Fluke became a hero to many on the left.
This controversy may have made Fluke famous, but it does not ensure she’ll inherit Representative Waxman’s seat. The list of well-known Democrats and independents eager for a chance to win the coastal L.A. district is long and getting longer. California’s jungle primary system, in which the top two vote-getters move to the general election regardless of their party affiliation, complicates all the contenders’ electoral strategies.
Fluke’s no carpetbagger: She moved to California following law school and passed the state bar exam two years ago. Other Democrats who have announced their intention to run include former Los Angeles controller and mayoral candidate Wendy Greuel, and state Sen. Ted Lieu, whose district largely overlaps Waxman’s.
Democrats who have said they might run include Debra Bowen, California secretary of State; and California Assemblymember Richard Bloom.
Independent Marianne Williamson, a self-help guide author, had already jumped into the race, running to Waxman’s left. TV producer Brent Roske is another independent candidate. The big question is whether ex-Republican and current independent Bill Bloomfield will run. Mr. Bloomfield, a wealthy and successful businessman, plowed $7 million of his own cash into running against Waxman in 2012. He won 46 percent of the vote – a strong showing against a legendary 40-year incumbent.
“It’s going to be a cast of thousands,” Democratic strategist Garry South told Los Angeles Times reporters Seema Mehta and Jean Merl last week.
The 33rd District itself leans Democratic, but it's not as liberal as it used to be. Bloomfield did well in 2012 in part because redistricting carved much of Waxman’s liberal Los Angeles base out of the district, replacing it with heavily Republican Palos Verdes Peninsula to the south, points out election expert Charlie Cook in his Cook Political Report analysis of the 33rd.
That means Fluke’s liberal bona fides might not be enough to power her to victory.
Meantime, her nascent candidacy is sparking predictable partisan reactions. On the right, many conservatives are making some variation of the same joke.
“I see Sandra Fluke is planning a campaign for Congress. I presume she’ll want us to pay for that, too?” tweeted Sean Davis, co-founder of the conservative-leaning website The Federalist.
Meanwhile, the media are eagerly awaiting a comment on the candidacy from a certain well-known radio host.
“Sandra Fluke officially files to give Rush Limbaugh countless hours of material,” tweeted Slate’s Dave Weigel.
Fox News host Bill O’Reilly interviewed President Obama prior to the Super Bowl on Sunday, and it was a tough, contentious 15 minutes. Mr. O’Reilly interrupted Mr. Obama a number of times, while Obama blamed some of his problems on Fox.
So who won?
Well, it’s tough to “win” or “lose” in a presidential interview, given that there’s no easy way to keep score. But we’d say both men accomplished what they set out to do. O’Reilly got clips he can use on his show for weeks. Obama got to challenge the veracity of the conservative news worldview – something that will play well with his own supporters.
First, the host. O’Reilly sounded tough and focused on the three subjects his network has been pounding on for months: the botched "Obamacare" rollout, the Benghazi attack in 2012 that killed the US ambassador in Libya, and the Internal Revenue Service's targeting of conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
On Obamacare, O’Reilly asked when the president knew there would be problems. Obama replied that everyone knew it wouldn’t go perfectly, and so forth, and then the host jumped in and asked why Obama hadn’t fired Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius.
This seemed to put the president back on his heels a bit. He said, “When we’re in midstream, Bill, we want to make sure that our main focus is how do we make this thing work so that people are able to sign up?”
O’Reilly then asked if Obama felt his biggest mistake had been telling people they could keep their health insurance, if they liked their insurance.
“Oh Bill, you’ve got a long list of my mistakes of my presidency,” replied Obama, turning the question around.
He added, as he has when asked in the past, that this was a matter he “regretted.”
Perhaps because he felt pressed for time, O’Reilly didn’t follow up here. He just moved on. Next subject up: Benghazi.
For the most part here O’Reilly looked backwards. He dwelt on why administration officials didn’t use the word “terror” in their initial reports about the attack.
Obama said that initial reports were confusing but that “people understood at the time that something dangerous was happening.”
“We’ve got to make sure that not only have we implemented all the reforms that were recommended by the independent agencies, but we also have to make sure that we understand our folks out there are in a hazardous, dangerous situation,” said Obama.
Then there was some back and forth as to whether the administration had not described Benghazi as a terrorist attack because Obama’s campaign team did not want that word used prior to the November 2012 election, lest Al Qaeda appear resurgent.
Detractors believe this, said O’Reilly.
That’s when Obama turned around and put the blame on Fox.
“They believe it because folks like you are telling them that,” he said. He also noted that many congressional hearings have spent hours looking at all these questions.
Then O’Reilly moved on to the IRS. He noted that a former IRS chief, Douglas Shulman, was cleared to visit the Obama White House 157 times. The implication, which he did not address directly, is that top administration officials were aware of the extra scrutiny the IRS gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Obama noted that Mr. Shulman was involved in the Obamacare rollout and thus had lots of White House meetings to attend. (As other journalists have pointed out, most of those meetings were in the Old Executive Office Building, not the White House itself, and three-quarters of them were regularly scheduled health-care meetings.)
“I do not recall meeting with him in any of these meetings, which are pretty routine meetings,” said Obama.
That was about it. They ended on a positive note with O’Reilly saying he felt Obama’s “heart was in the right place,” and Obama making a wildly inaccurate prediction for the score of the upcoming game.
Was O’Reilly insulting? Or was he too easy? In fact, some critics of the president were annoyed that the Fox host focused on asking questions that Obama has been asked many times before, on subjects that have chalked up hours of congressional scrutiny, as the president himself said.
O’Reilly conducted a “faux-tough interview made up of questions that were virtually guaranteed to elicit nothing of value,” wrote the Atlantic’s Conor Freidersdorf, who has been critical of the administration’s drone and surveillance policies.
“Those who want Obama to face tough questions saw an opportunity squandered, and were bored to tears by stuff we’ve already heard,” Mr. Freidersdorf added.
He was not the only journalist who said O’Reilly’s tough demeanor actually concealed the fact that the questions were framed in such a manner as to make them easily deflectable.
“It’s a shame. O’Reilly had 15 minutes and an audience of millions to ask the president hard questions. Instead he lobbed lumpy softballs,” wrote Marc Ambinder, editor-at-large of the news magazine The Week.
To some conservatives, however, the interview revealed that Obama is persisting in explanations that they hold to be implausible.
“Obama DOUBLES DOWN on IRS targeting denial” was part of the headline on the right-leaning Daily Caller story about the interview, for instance.
COVER STORY: Is Barack Obama an imperial president?
Can the US government deport Justin Bieber? We’re pretty sure that is not an agenda item for the next National Security Council Deputies Committee meeting. But there’s a request to deport the Canadian pop prince on the White House “We the People” online petition site, and it’s got almost 200,000 signatures. When an appeal gets that much support, the administration is supposed to officially respond.
What that response will be, we don’t yet know. The world holds its breath, apparently.
First, for all you Beliebers out there, don’t be too worried. The “We the People” site is not some sort of citizen vigilante Supreme Court. It’s a PR thing by the White House to make people feel they have an influence, however small, on the course of our great nation. Mr. Bieber will not be deported just because hundreds of thousands of Americans wish it. He’ll be deported because his music is terrible.
RECOMMENDED: Could you pass a US citizenship test?
Ha, ha, just kidding kids! Can I have my Twitter feed back now?
Anyway, the White House (may) respond to this petition when it gets around to it. But that “response” may be just some sort of generic statement that it's heard the will of the people, or that this raises some serious issues, or that we should all calm down and listen to some Nickelback. It doesn’t have to involve action at all.
Second, as things stand now, there’s no way Bieber gets booted out of the country. He’s here on a valid visa, and last we looked, he has been convicted of no crime. Sure, he was arrested in Miami on suspicion of drunken driving, resisting arrest, and other bad stuff. He could face vandalism charges for that egg-throwing incident back in the L.A. area, where a neighbor claims Bieber-launched yolks caused extensive damage to his house.
But Bieber hasn’t gone to trial, and good lawyers ought to be able to plea-bargain and otherwise maneuver their client’s way through this thicket.
“We will see how Bieber’s legal proceedings play out. Criminal convictions would seem necessary to ever deport him, especially given his ability to secure immigration counsel,” writes Kevin Johnson, dean of the University of California at Davis School of Law, at the “ImmigrationProf Blog.”
Third – and here’s the “but” moment – Bieber may be safe for now, but he can see deportation from where he’s standing. In fact, advocates for immigration reform are pointing to Bieber’s case as a moment to try to teach Americans about what the advocates say are the excesses and arbitrary nature of the deportation system.
If Bieber were poor or Hispanic, it is much more likely that his actions would result in a one-way ticket to his homeland, they say.
“[W]e are watching with interest to see issues Bieber’s situation will shine on the United States’ dysfunctional immigration enforcement system, which doesn’t offer due process to those caught up in its web,” writes Diana Scholl of the American Civil Liberties Union in a post on the case.
Bieber is a legal resident. He is in the US on an “O-1” visa, which is given to people in science, business, athletics, education, and the arts who exhibit “extraordinary ability.”
Sometimes the best jokes write themselves.
Long story short, an O-1 visa holder generally has to be convicted of an aggravated felony or crimes of “moral turpitude” to be deported under US law. But that’s not quite as difficult as it sounds. Some misdemeanors can be defined as “aggravated felonies” for the purposes of deportation, according to immigration lawyers. The American Immigration Council points to the case of Kellyann Jeanette Charles, a native of Trinidad and Tobago and green-card holder who is facing deportation on a shoplifting conviction that has been classified an aggravated felony.
“[F]or immigrants ... 'aggravated felony' covers more than thirty offenses, including simple battery, theft, filing a false tax return, and failing to appear in court,” writes Matthew Kolodziej, a legislative fellow at the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
Drug crimes can also lead to deportation – and Bieber allegedly has copped to having smoked marijuana and popped some pills prior to his Miami arrest, though he hasn’t been charged with drug-related offenses in either Florida or California.
Again, Bieber’s been charged with nothing so far that a good lawyer probably can’t handle. (But he’s also fortunate to be able to afford lawyers. Unlike in criminal court, in immigration court defendants are not guaranteed right to counsel, according to the ACLU.) Unless his notorious activities escalate, Bieber should remain a US resident.
But a few more blowups, and Bieber may be saying, “Hello, Toronto.” Where he faces separate legal charges for allegedly assaulting a limousine driver, by the way.
“Of course, one could face worse fates than being deported to Canada. But, depending how all this plays out, Bieber could face a bar on returning to the U.S. for a long time after deportation – long enough to lose those baby cheeks,” writes Ilona Bray, an immigration lawyer and author of “Becoming a U.S. Citizen.”
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Should Democrats give up on retaking the House in 2014 and shift campaign dollars to the battle for the Senate? That’s the theme of a piece in Politico on Wednesday that says Democratic Party operatives and big donors are talking about such a strategy among themselves.
“It’s a delicate decision for Democrats and one not taken lightly,” Politico’s Alex Isenstadt writes.
Well, the decision may be delicate, but the numbers involved here are anything but. The election is still months away, and a lot can happen. But if current polls hold, continued Republican control of the House is a foregone conclusion. Democrats would need a net gain of 17 seats to retake the chamber, and if you go down the list and look at it race by race, a gain of that size seems highly unlikely.
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“Although individual skirmishes will provide plenty of drama, the end result – a Republican hold in the House – is almost a certainty,” write University of Virginia political scientists Larry Sabato, Kyle Kondik, and Geoffrey Skelley in their latest Center for Politics “Crystal Ball” forecast.
For Democrats to regain the speaker’s chair for Rep. Nancy Pelosi, three things would have had to occur, wrote prognosticator David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report late last year. Republican budget intransigence would have had to continue. More GOP members from marginal districts would have had to retire. Democrats would have had to recruit five or 10 additional top-tier candidates to run in districts currently held by the other party.
None of that happened. Instead, Democrats got the drip-drip of the troubled Obamacare rollout. The big-name retirements all seem to be Democrats, with Rep. Henry Waxman of California just the latest example.
As a result, Cook Political Report’s forecast is that Republicans will gain between zero and 10 seats.
The Senate is a different country. Right now it has 53 Democrats, 45 Republicans, and two independents that caucus with the Democrats. The GOP needs a net gain of six to switch chamber control.
Given that midterms generally aren’t favorable to the president’s party, as well as the current general electoral environment, such a Republican jump is possible, maybe even probable.
Crunching the numbers, Andrew Gelman, a Columbia University professor of statistics and political science, currently forecasts the Democratic Party’s chances of losing the Senate at 56 percent, more or less. Right now the margin of uncertainty there is five points or so either way, he adds.
“We’ll learn more as the election gets closer,” he writes on the “Monkey Cage” political science blog.
One big factor here may be President Obama’s low favorability rating. State-by-state outcomes in House and Senate races correlate fairly closely with presidential job ratings, according to RealClearPolitics polling and political analyst Sean Trende.
Right now, about 43 percent of Americans give Mr. Obama a favorable job-approval rating, according to RealClearPolitics' rolling average of major polls. If that figure does not go up, the question won’t be whether the GOP retakes the Senate, Mr. Trende says. It will be whether Republicans end up with 54 or 55 seats.
“If the president is unpopular, it is going to make it really tough for these red state Democrats who are up in 2014,” Trende said in a video interview with The Wall Street Journal.
Given all this, why wouldn’t Democrats shift resources to Senate defense? The real question is whether such a move would make much difference. Dollars can do only so much at the federal campaign level. The national political environment, quality of the candidates, and the state of the economy are all important parts of Senate electoral results.
RECOMMENDED: Eight open US Senate seats in 2014
So President Obama’s big State of the Union moment has come and gone. How did voters react to the speech?
Well, the first poll numbers are rolling in, and they look OK for the White House. According to a snap CNN/ORC survey, 44 percent of viewers who’d watched Mr. Obama said they had a “very positive” response to his SOTU address. Thirty-two percent said they had a “somewhat positive” response, and 22 percent disliked it.
That’s about the same level of overall positive response as Obama got last year in a similar poll, although the percentage of people in the top “very positive” category was higher in 2013.
Similarly, a just-released CBS poll shows 83 percent of responding viewers said they approved of the proposals outlined in the speech. Only 17 percent disapproved.
There are a couple of mitigating factors to keep in mind here, however. The first is that SOTUs are often well-received by voters, no matter how much David Brooks on PBS (or any other pundit) gripes in its aftermath.
In a 2002 CBS poll, 85 percent of viewers said they approved of then-President George W. Bush’s State of the Union, for instance.
In part this is because voters who choose to watch the speech in the first place tend to be predisposed to like it. The audience for a Democratic president’s SOTU will be disproportionately made up of Democrats; that for a Republican president will be more heavily GOP.
The other point of context for this year’s State of the Union is that the overall audience shrank. Bloomberg has added up the numbers, and it figures Obama’s total audience was about 31 million viewers. That’s down from about 33 million in 2013, and is the smallest SOTU audience of Obama’s term in office.
It’s very unlikely that Tuesday night’s address will boost Obama’s favorability ratings in the long term. That’s because a chief executive’s words, by themselves, generally don’t affect polls, according to John Sides, an associate professor of political science at George Washington University who specializes in public opinion and elections.
“Speeches, no matter how eloquent or well-received, rarely make a president more popular,” writes Mr. Sides on the “Monkey Cage” political science blog hosted by the Washington Post.
But that does not mean the public ignores the content of presidential speeches entirely, Sides adds. Voters learn from SOTUs and other addresses. They tend to rate issues identified in presidential speeches as more important.
This could have some political effect down the road.
Democracy Group, a Democratic-leaning firm founded by Clinton strategist James Carville and pollster Stanley Greenburg, ran a dial testing survey during Tuesday’s speech. That’s where participants turn a dial up or down to rate what they’re hearing at the moment.
They added results from a focus group of 44 Colorado swing voters. Among their overall findings: Participants rated Obama’s economic plans much more highly after the speech was over.
“Voters gave him high marks on his push for [gender] paycheck fairness, minimum wage, education, student loans, and job training. Even Republicans in our audience responded positively to Obama’s plan for paycheck fairness,” wrote Greenberg, Carville, et al.
That could be dismissed as wishful thinking from a left-leaning organization. But the conservative journalist Byron York notes in the Washington Examiner that Democracy Group has not hesitated to criticize Democrats in the past.
“The bottom line is that the [focus] group in Colorado – swing voters in a swing state – responded much more positively to the substance of Obama’s speech than the horde of lawmakers, aides, tweeters and talkers in Washington. That is something Republicans in particular should note as they shape their agenda for 2014,” according to York.
Rep. Michael Grimm (R) of New York got very, very mad at a reporter following President Obama’s State of the Union address on Tuesday night. How mad? Mad enough to physically threaten NY1 cable news journalist Michael Scotto.
“I’ll break you in half. Like a boy,” Representative Grimm told Mr. Scotto after the latter asked him about a federal investigation into his campaign finances.
Grimm was initially unrepentant Wednesday morning. He said that he was doing Scotto a favor by agreeing to be interviewed about Mr. Obama’s speech and that to ask him about the federal investigation as part of that interview was a “cheap shot.”
“I doubt that I am the first member of Congress to tell off a reporter, and I am sure I won’t be the last,” Grimm said in a statement.
On Wednesday he apologized for his actions, telling reporters he had "lost his cool."
It’s true he won’t be the last lawmaker to tell a reporter to shove it. But Grimm may also be touchy about this subject because the Federal Bureau of Investigation probe is a serious one that could send people to jail and end others’ careers.
Grimm himself has been charged with no crime. Diana Durand, a woman described in press reports as Grimm’s former girlfriend, has been arraigned in federal court on charges that she used so-called straw donors to funnel illegal contributions to two members of Congress.
Neither lawmaker is named in the federal complaint. But press reports say they are Grimm and Rep. Aaron Schock (R) of Illinois.
Ms. Durand may not be the final target of this FBI probe, according to Roll Call political money specialist Kent Cooper. The charges against her “may be part of a strategic plan to bring pressure on someone under investigation,” he wrote earlier this month.
Grimm himself was an FBI agent at one point in his colorful past. He can put these dots together without the media’s help.
“Straw donors” are donors used to evade federal limits on campaign contributions to individual candidates. They work like this: Say you’re a friend of a member of Congress, and you want to give him or her more than the $4,800 you can legally give a campaign. You enlist another friend to give $4,800 – and then, in turn, you pay that friend back for his or her largess.
This is what the Feds have charged conservative author-filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza with doing. They charge he funneled $10,000 to the campaign of New York Republican Senate candidate Wendy Long in 2012.
Mr. D’Souza has pleaded not guilty to those charges. Prosecutors have told the federal judge handling the matter that Ms. Long, who attended Dartmouth with D’Souza, will testify against him.
As for Durand, she is a Houston resident who was a friend of Grimm’s, according to the complaint filed against her. News reports say the pair became acquainted in 2008, when Grimm had business dealings in Texas.
The FBI complaint says that Durand recruited two co-workers to serve as straw donors to “Congressman A” in 2010.
The complaint quotes an e-mail that Durand wrote thanking them for their help, which she called “priceless.”
“I still have to make the deposit but I can write you both a check, or I can get your account numbers and do a transfer, whatever works for you,” Durand wrote, in an apparent reference to reimbursing the co-workers for their expense.
The New York Times has identified “Congressman A” as Grimm and said the details of the contributions match the disclosed records of Grimm’s campaign contributions.
In a separate matter, the FBI is also probing whether Ofer Biton, an associate of a charismatic Orthodox rabbi, collected questionable money for Grimm’s campaign from the rabbi’s congregation.
Many of the rabbi’s followers are Israeli citizens. Foreign donations are barred from US campaigns.
It is not illegal for a candidate to accept straw donor money if the candidate does not know the scheme behind the contribution. As noted above, Grimm has not been charged with any campaign finance violation.
But among lawmakers, he is not seen as a phlegmatic colleague. Quite the contrary. A former member of the US Army and an 11-year FBI agent, Grimm is an avid weight lifter known to the New York tabloids as “Mikey Suits.” He’s threatened other NY1 journalists in the past, according to NY1 political director Bob Hardt.
“Rep. Michael Grimm’s bizarre and scary rant against our Michael Scotto last night is not an isolated incident; it’s part of a pattern in which the congressman has tried to avoid questions from NY1 about an ongoing probe into his campaign finances – and then become enraged when we’ve dared to ask him about a legitimate story,” Mr. Hardt writes.
Is John McCain too liberal for Arizona? Yes, that question may sound a bit weird, given that he’s the state’s senior Republican and has won reelection as a senator four times. But the 2008 GOP presidential nominee has gotten crosswise with the Arizona Republican Party, apparently. On Saturday, a party meeting in Tempe censured Senator McCain for working too closely with Democrats on immigration and the federal budget, among things.
McCain “has abandoned our values and has been eerily silent against Liberals, yet publicly reprimands Conservatives in his own Party,” read a resolution adopted by party leaders on a voice vote.
McCain’s caustic criticism of Sen. Ted Cruz (R) of Texas and other tea party conservatives whose push to defund Obamacare led to last year’s government shutdown was another strike against him, in the eyes of Arizona critics. The resolution says that unless his attitude changes, the state party won’t work or campaign for McCain.
“Our complaint is that John McCain is always working on the other side of the aisle and he never lands on our side of the aisle,” said Timothy Schwartz, an Arizona GOP district chairman, on MSNBC’s “Hardball” Monday night.
What’s going on here? It’s possible state conservatives are trying to wave McCain off a try for a sixth term in 2016. He hasn’t yet said whether he’s going to run for reelection.
But McCain handily defeated a conservative primary challenger, former Rep. J.D. Hayworth, in 2010, so grumblings from that side of the party may not bother him. And anybody who’s met the man can figure out that poking him just might persuade him to run again out of irritation.
“If anything, it fires me up,” McCain said on Monday.
McCain said he’s got polling showing he’s an overwhelming favorite in Arizona. And he may be right, not just because of his long service, but because Arizona is not as conservative a state as some pundits might realize.
Sure, Arizona has Joe Arpaio, the self-described “Toughest Sheriff in America.” (He’s just put some prisoners on a bread and water diet for desecrating the American flag.) It has GOP Gov. Jan Brewer, who got some attention for maybe waving her finger in President Obama’s face during his visit to Arizona in 2012.
In 2012, GOP candidate Mitt Romney handily defeated Mr. Obama in Arizona, 53 to 44 percent.
But last year, Gallup rated the relative conservative-liberal balance in all 50 states, by asking residents how they would describe their own political values. And Arizona came out ... almost exactly in the middle.
That’s right. Arizona is not in America’s top 10 conservative states, according to Gallup. It is not even in the top 20. It is just a tick more red state than Colorado and Virginia, both of which are former red states trending purpler with each passing electoral cycle.
Did we mention that almost 30 percent of Arizona's population is Hispanic? That’s not a GOP-leaning demographic group to put it mildly.
Perhaps that is why Arizona is one of only six Republican-controlled states to agree to expand Medicaid, as called for in the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare.
McCain is no Democrat’s idea of a liberal. He fought against passage of Obamacare and is an enthusiastic voice pushing a muscular, interventionist US foreign policy around the world.
But it’s likely he’s more in tune with Arizona voters than his party leadership.
The official party speaker will be Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R) of Washington. She was chosen in part to counter Democratic charges that the GOP wages a “war on women.” As the head of the House Republican Conference, Representative Rodgers is the highest-ranking House GOP female. She’s also the mother of three young kids and the first person in her family to graduate from college.
Then there is the official Spanish-speaking party responder. That will be Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R) of Florida. She’ll essentially read a translation of Rodgers’s words, with personal anecdotes and references changed or edited out.
In recent years, the tea party wing of the GOP has proffered its own SOTU comments, and that’s continuing this year. Sen. Mike Lee (R) of Utah gets the nod here. Plus, this year Sen. Rand Paul (R) of Kentucky is offering his personal response. We’re sure it’s just a coincidence that he’s a possible 2016 presidential contender.
There will also be somewhat less formal Republican Party comments from a host of tweeters and designated surrogates around the country. The National Republican Congressional Committee, for instance, is running a “SOTU Rapid Response” page on Twitter.
The obvious question about all this is “why"? Responding to a State of the Union speech isn’t easy: The president gets a grand setting with a large audience, and the responder gets a small room and static camera angles. Nor do the responders usually get much time to practice, which can lead to awkward moments. Last year, a thirsty Sen. Marco Rubio (R) of Florida made an ill-advised duck and grab for a water bottle, leading to endless mockery on social media.
There’s also little evidence that a responder gets a political boost. Rep. Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin gave the response in 2011, and that worked out well for him, at least in terms of boosting him onto a (losing) national ticket. But 2010? Then-Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) of Virginia. Yes, that’s the same Bob McDonnell who was just indicted on charges of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of illegal gifts.
When it comes to SOTU response, “The star of the moment rarely lasts as a star,” writes conservative-leaning Jennifer Rubin on her “Right Turn” Washington Post blog.
But the context for the opposition party response in this forum may be changing. That’s the quick answer to “why now”? The rise of social media and Web-based broadcasting means that even unofficial responders can reach a much larger, and more like-minded, audience than before. For instance, Senator Paul plans to blast out clips of his remarks on Twitter and Facebook to supporters around the country.
The Republican Party’s current internal divisions also play a role in the multiple responses. Tea party conservatives are competing with establishment Republicans for a bigger say in party policies. The libertarian hero Paul is trying to cut his own path to presidential contention.
Of course, the multiplicity of voices may make the GOP look divided. But that should not matter too much, according to Seth Masket, a political scientist at the University of Denver, unless the tea party faction bolts and fields its own candidate for 2016.
“[T]hat’s highly unlikely, and we’ve seen plenty of instances of intra-party squabbling among Republicans in recent years even while they rally around their presidential nominee,” Dr. Masket writes on the “Mischiefs of Faction” political science blog.
The excitement quotient of these responses remains to be seen. But in general, the politicians given the job of SOTU follow-up could do a much better job of kicking things up a notch.
That would be good for the nation as a whole, according to Arthur Lupia, a professor of political science at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. That’s because a SOTU response is a rare opportunity for opposition parties to deliver an unfiltered message on all major networks in prime time.
He offers three suggestions. First, responding parties should remember that they are participating in a television program and marry their message with modern production techniques, instead of droning on while facing a camera. Second, they could add an audience to perk things up. Third, they should mix in lots of energetic young people to provide a contrast to the largely older audience that the president addresses on Capitol Hill.
“Because most citizens experience the SOTU response as a television program, we shouldn’t be surprised when they judge it harshly as such. The parties can do better,” Dr. Lupia writes on "The Monkey Cage” political science blog.