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the vote blog

Government is serious. Democracy is sacred. And then there is politics the way it is actually played. The Vote blog looks at politics the way the players talk about it among themselves after work.

Mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio and his wife, Chirlane McCray, arrive to cast their primary votes, Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013, at the Park Slope Public Library in the Brooklyn borough of New York. New Yorkers head to the polls Tuesday in a primary election that begins the process of replacing Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire mayor who has defined their city for 12 years. (Bebeto Matthews/AP)

NYC primary: How strong a break with the Bloomberg years?

By Corresondent / 09.10.13

New Yorkers are casting ballots Tuesday in a mayoral primary contest that has captivated the city and political watchers for its sheer mania.

Though the focus thus far has been on a wacky Democratic race, featuring former Congressman Anthony Weiner’s sexting shenanigans and personal drama, voters will nominate a Republican and Democrat for the top job. And it’s worth remembering that, despite the liberal bent of the city, the last time a nominee of the latter party was elected to mayor it was 1989.

Ascendant in the Democratic polls of late has been Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who if he reaches the magic mark of 40 percent in the voting will secure the nomination. If not, the top two contenders will battle in an Oct. 1 run-off.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who would be the city’s first openly gay mayor and first woman to hold the position, was favored early, but she hasn’t been able to connect with voters effectively. Bill Thompson, the city’s former comptroller, is also running. They are each looking to land enough support to force Mr. de Blasio to vie in another round.

Mr. Weiner has fallen to a distant fourth place in recent polls. The emergence during the contest of more young women who said Weiner had engaged in sexually charged banter with them via cyberspace – a behavior he suggested he’d abandoned months prior – has proved a general distraction from a substantive discussion of the issues facing the city.

His campaign devolved into shouting matches with disapproving voters and his mocking of foreign reporters who probed about his personal life. Even his wife, long-time Hillary Rodham Clinton aide Huma Abedin, has disappeared from the campaign trail and the candidate’s ads after initially standing by him.

A Quinnipiac poll released Monday shows de Blasio at 39 percent, followed by Mr. Thompson at 25 percent, and Ms. Quinn with 18 percent. Weiner lags at 6 percent.

Reuters, in its primary day reflection on the race, has deemed the face-off “uproarious.”

The leading Republican possibilities are former public transit chairman Joe Lhota and grocery store magnate John Catsimatidis. Lhota, a veteran of former Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s team, is favored, CNN reports.

The big questions going into the day were how big de Blasio would win, whether he would require the help of the city’s minority voters – African Americans, in particular – and could he build a wide-ranging coalition of voters that would boost his chances dramatically in the general?

De Blasio, who is married to Chirlane McCray, a Wellesley-educated writer and poet who is black, has used their son, Dante de Blasio, in a television ad appealing to voters.

In the ad, the candidate’s son knocks Mayor Michael Bloomberg and says his father can do better:

“He’s the only Democrat with the guts to really break from the Bloomberg years, the only one who will raise taxes on the rich to fund early childhood and after-school programs. He’s got the boldest plan to build affordable housing. And he’s the only one who will end a stop-and-frisk era that unfairly targets people of color. Bill de Blasio will be a mayor for every New Yorker, no matter where they live and what they look like.”

The family’s multi-racial tableau has proved a draw for some. Though not for all.

Perhaps smarting from Dante’s knock against him, Mr. Bloomberg lashed out at the frontrunner for employing this family strategy, suggesting it was “racist” and represented “class warfare.” For a city divided about Bloomberg’s legacy and whether he has been good for all New Yorkers or primarily the wealthy, his remarks could prove a turnout gift from the heavens for de Blasio.

Some view de Blasio – who ran Mrs. Clinton’s 2000 Senate campaign and served in Mayor David Dinkins administration – as too far left to run the city. New York Magazine has asked if de Blasio’s policy concerns were “too rarified for most New Yorkers.”

“His campaign is easily the most intellectually coherent and focused when it comes to inequality,” the magazine reported. “Everything from his proposal for beefing up bus service to his plan for restructuring development subsidies extends from his central premise: that New York has become dangerously split between rich and poor, and the disparities in government priorities and services need to be closed.”

De Blasio, who lives in a Brooklyn row house and holds degrees from New York University and Columbia, has framed his candidacy as that of a populist. But Bloomberg, for his part, has balked at the suggestion that New York is “a tale of two cities.”

The general election will mark an end to the Bloomberg era. He has served three terms, the third was, of course, secured by bending the rules limiting leaders to two four-year stints at the helm.

There is always a pendulum-swing aspect to American politics. The public – especially at the presidential level – often corrects itself, giving power and influence to an individual whose strengths are in areas where his predecessor was perceived to be weak, or who acts as a foil for his or her most defining characteristics. So it makes some sense, according to the informal laws of politics, to see voters gravitate from a billionaire mayor to a populist candidate.

But Bloomberg, on his way out the door, sees no folly in making the city a friendly place for the affluent.

“If we can find a bunch of billionaires around the world to move here, that would be a godsend, because that’s where the revenue comes to take care of everybody else,” he said in response to the de Blasio ad. “All I know is from the city’s point of view, we want these people, and why criticize them? Wouldn’t it be great if we could get all the Russian billionaires to move here?”

If de Blasio ends up in Gracie Mansion, it’s highly possible in coming years that New Yorkers will have an opportunity to see which of these starkly contrasting philosophies is indeed most effective.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton laughs at a speech during a February ceremony honoring her at the Pentagon in Washington. Clinton leads the latest poll in Iowa. ( (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File))

Clinton leads 2016 poll in Iowa, but Rand Paul is close (+video)

By Staff writer / 05.25.13

Hillary Clinton for president in 2016?

Husband Bill says, "Relax." Let his wife enjoy a bit of a private life for the first time in two decades.

But as far as the pollsters are concerned, the 2016 race is underway. And Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is certainly acting like he's in the race.

The latest poll out of Iowa has former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton beating Florida Sen. Marco Rubio handily (48 vs. 37 percent), but could face a tougher race against Senator Paul (46 vs. 42 percent), according to a new poll by Quinnipiac University.

The poll says that Iowa voters would give the race to either Senator Rubio or Senator Paul, if the Democratic Party candidate was Vice President Joe Biden.

 "The major difference between former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joseph Biden is that she runs much better among independent voters, although Sen. Rand Paul runs better among that key group than either Democrat," said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

 "In general Sen. Paul appears to be the better GOP candidate at this point in Iowa. Part of the reason may be the publicity from his recent high-profile visit to the state, but more likely is that he begins with a solid base of support - the folks who voted for his father in the 2008 and 2012 caucuses."

As The Christian Science Monitor reported, Rand Paul was in Iowa two weeks ago, and was popular among Republicans.

In a recent survey of [only] the registered Republican voters in Iowa, Paul won 39 percent of the vote with Marco Rubio next in line at just 20 percent. (Among Democrats, Hillary Clinton won 43 percent with Vice President Joe Biden winning 27 percent.) Earlier this year, Paul won a straw poll vote at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).

At a Monitor-sponsored press gathering last month, Paul said he would not decide whether to run before 2014. Meanwhile, he’s just unique enough among the GOP field – and just different enough from his father – to keep drawing attention.

On Monday night, Paul was in another key primary state. He addressed a sold-out New Hampshire Republican Party dinner of some 500 attendees. At that dinner speech, as he did in Iowa, he criticized Hillary Clinton's handling of the terrorist attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya. "If I had been president, I would have relieved [Hillary Clinton] from office. Without question that is a dereliction of duty," said Paul in Concord, N.H., according to Realclearpolitics.com.

Another Quinnipiac poll of voters in New Jersey, taken in March, also showed Clinton vanquishing three Republican contenders. Clinton beat New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (45 to 37 percent), in that poll. Voters surveyed also showed her beating Rubio and US Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin by even wider margins. The poll did not ask about Senator Paul.

"Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would start a 2016 presidential campaign with enormous advantages," Mr. Brown of the Quinnipiac said in a statement after the New Jersey poll.  "She obviously is by far the best known and her more than 20 years in the public spotlight allows her to create a very favorable impression on the American people. But it is worth noting that she had very good poll numbers in 2006 looking toward the 2008 election, before she faced a relative unknown in Barack Obama."

When asked about his wife's 2016 plans, earlier this month Bill Clinton said, "She’s taking a role in the [Clinton] foundation, she’s writing books, she’s having a little fun being a private citizen for the first time in 20 years.”

And then what?

President Obama is greeted by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie upon his arrival at Atlantic City International Airport, Oct. 2012, in Atlantic City, NJ. Obama traveled to the region to take an aerial tour of the Atlantic Coast in New Jersey in areas damaged by superstorm Sandy. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP/File)

Chris Christie praises Obama (again): Is he digging himself in deeper? (+video)

By Ron SchererStaff writer / 04.29.13

Christie lauds Obama (again) over Sandy: Is he digging himself in deeper?

As he gave President Obama a tour along the Sandy-devastated Jersey Shore last October, Gov. Chris Christie gave President Obama the body hug – call it a non-endorsement endorsement – that some conservatives still think cost Mitt Romney the election.

Six months later, Governor Christie, a Romney supporter, is unrepentant.

He says presidential politics was the last thing on his mind that day. And, he once again gave Obama the Christie-seal-of-approval as far as super storm Sandy is concerned.

“He’s kept every promise that he made,” he said Monday morning on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

Is that another non-endorsement endorsement of the president? Or, is it just a frank assessment of the billions of dollars pouring into the Garden State? And, could his assessment of Obama vis-a-vis New Jersey cost him conservative votes?

Political analyst Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia says it’s just another example of Christie’s stubborn nature.

“He didn’t back off the October statements about Obama,” recalls Mr. Sabato. But, at the same time, he says Christie needs all that money from Washington to help rebuild his battered state. And, as it rebuilds the state, it helps his standing with voters from both parties.

“Christie needs lots of Democratic voters to get reelected in November,” says Sabato.

So, far, New Jersey voters have a high opinion of Christie. According to an April 24 Quinnipiac University poll, the governor leads Democratic state Sen. Barbara Buono by 58 percent to 26 percent in his reelection bid this fall. Christie’s approval rating is a high 67 percent.

But polls this early aren’t that meaningful, Sabato says.

“There are a lot of politicians who are out of office who assumed their April numbers will be their November numbers,” he says.

Nationally, Republicans’ ardor for Christie has cooled somewhat. In a poll of New Hampshire Republicans last Thursday, Public Policy Polling found Christie (14 percent) behind Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky (28 percent) and Sen. Marco Rubio (25 percent) of Florida.

On Monday, Christie tried to separate his approval of Obama’s response to the storm with his other political views.

He told MSNBC that “everyone knows I have like a 95 percent level of disagreement with President Barack Obama on issues of principal and philosophy, but the fact of the matter is that he’s got a job to do. And, what people expect out of people they elect is for them to do their job.”

Sabato, however, thinks it’s unlikely Christie will win the Republican nomination no matter what he says about Obama.

“Christie is too moderate,” he explains. “It is not just what he said about Obama but a whole range of social issues. It just does not comport with the very conservative base of the Republican Party.”

Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Maryland, Friday. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Donald Trump CPAC speech: Is he a Democratic secret agent? (+video)

By Staff writer / 03.15.13

Will Donald Trump get asked back to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference next time around? At the moment, we’d guess the answer to that is no, as on Friday he delivered a CPAC speech so dismissive of the current Republican Party that it’s plausible he’s a Democratic secret agent sent to destroy the GOP’s morale.

“The Republican Party is in serious trouble,” he said within moments of beginning. It sort of went downhill from there, landing with a thump at bottom: his offer to build a ballroom for the White House (more on that in a moment).

OK, maybe the GOP really is in serious trouble; we get that. But Mr. Trump’s prescription for a turnaround involves either repudiating basic Republican beliefs or doubling down on stuff that’s getting the party in trouble at the moment. The headline on the report of Elspeth Reeve from The Atlantic captures this pretty well: “Donald Trump Fires Everyone’s Ideas.”

For instance, the most basic of GOP aims might be fiscal prudence in regards to US entitlement programs. If we don’t rein in the costs of Medicare, Medicaid, et al., America will go bankrupt and turn into Greece. That’s pretty much a core belief that unites the tea party and establishment Republicans. Even many Democrats know entitlements must be changed: The Obama administration has said it would accept more means testing in the system, for instance.

Trump’s view? Fuggedaboutit. The voters just don’t want their entitlements touched, even tea party voters, he told a surprised CPAC audience.

“As Republicans, if you think you’re going to change very substantially for the worse Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security in any substantial way and at the same time you think you’re going to win elections, it just really is not going to happen,” the mogul/reality-show star said.

Then there’s immigration reform. Already, CPAC has been a surprising showcase for the Republican turnaround on this issue, with some speakers hinting at a bipartisan immigration bill glinting in the distance. Trump’s view? It’s a trap! Run away!

Immigration reform would give 11 million illegal immigrants the right to vote, he said. And they won’t be grateful to Republicans.

“Every one of those 11 million people will be voting Democratic. It’s just the way it works. And you have to be very, very careful, because you could say that to a certain extent, the odds aren’t looking so great right now for Republicans, that you’re on a suicide mission, you’re not going to get those votes,” said the Donald.

Bracingly honest or defeatist? Over to you, Sen. Marco Rubio.

As for campaigning, Trump said he liked Mitt Romney, but his real trouble was that he did not “talk about his successes.” In other words, he did not advertise how much money he made for himself and others as head of Bain Capital, or how many jobs he created in that process.

You know, we remember that being quicksand for the Romney campaign. Is that just us? Every time he tried this, he just sounded like a plutocrat with friends who own NASCAR dressage teams that compete at the Olympics.

“And I just feel that the Republicans and Mitt – and I told him this – didn’t speak enough about the things he did, the great things. They were on the defensive instead of taking that offensive,” he said.

But Trump? He’s nothing if not on the offensive. The speech contained the obligatory "Celebrity Apprentice" reference and a quick shout-out to the Doral
Golf Resort, which he recently purchased.

“Anybody who’s a member of my club, I love,” Trump said to laughter at one point. “Maybe President Obama should join one of my clubs. I would love that.”

Hmm. Maybe he already has? That could explain the Debbie Downer tone of Trump’s CPAC endeavor.

Oh, and the tent – that was puzzling. Trump said that a couple of years ago, he saw a state dinner at the White House in a tent. And not just any tent, but “a bad tent, probably a tent that the guy who owns the tent made a fortune, probably rented it for one night for more than it cost him.”

So Trump picked up the phone and called the White House and offered to build a ballroom.

“I will do it. It’ll cost anywhere from $50 to a $100 million. I will do it. You can get the greatest architects. You’ll make it perfectly sympathetic with the White House and the architecture. It’ll be fabulous,” said Trump.

The White House said thanks, wow, what a great offer. Then Trump never heard from them again.

“That’s the problem with the country,” he told CPAC. "That’s a small thing, but that’s the problem with the country.... You don’t hear from people.”

I guess no one told Trump that the size of state dinners varies and that many are small enough to be inside the White House, or that being outside in a tent on the South Lawn on a summer evening is one of the most glorious experiences in the world, or that his idea of fabulous might not mesh with historic Washington architecture.

So there you have it, Trump’s solution to what ails the GOP: give up on entitlements, give up on immigration reform, talk about the money you’ve got, and no tents.

Plus, call people back. That’s a nostrum we heartily endorse as reporters.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and first lady Michelle Obama attend the 2012 International Women of Courage Awards, on the 101st Anniversary of International Women's Day one year ago, at the State Department in Washington. 'Hillary–Michelle in 2016' is buzzing on the internet at the moment. Awesome or awful? (Charles Dharapak/AP/File)

Hillary-Michelle in 2016: Awesome or awful?

By Staff writer / 03.14.13

Hillary–Michelle in 2016? That’s the buzz on the Interwebs and TwitBook at the moment. There’s no substance behind the speculation, meaning no one in any position to know actually thinks either Hillary Rodham Clinton or Michelle Obama is considering teaming up on a presidential ticket.

But hey, the next election is still a long way off, and mulling over a first ladies ticket is every bit as serious as predicting New Jersey GOP Gov. Chris Christie’s intentions.

At least for now.

So here’s why Hillary-Michelle would be awesome:

Rise of the matriarchs. Will women soon rule the United States, metaphorically speaking? Given that they were a 53 percent majority of voters in the 2012 election, according to exit polls, that seems at least possible. They are also a majority of US college students and are earning more university degrees than males.

Television comedy, our most sensitive of cultural indicators, increasingly depicts men as the clueless foils of intelligent females. In that sense, a Hillary-Michelle ticket would simply symbolize the change occurring at other levels in America. Hey, “Change!” Wouldn’t that be a great political slogan?

Center, meet left. While a Hillary-Michelle ticket would be unbalanced in terms of gender, it would be a better mix of Democratic Party factions than the current White House occupants. Mrs. Clinton represents the more centrist, business-friendly Democratic Leadership Council part of the party. Mrs. Obama presumably would align with her husband’s somewhat more liberal wing.

That’s why dreamers wanted to dump Joe Biden and put Hillary on the 2012 ticket. They thought that lineup would have broader appeal.

White House husbands, the sitcom. A first and second husband, both of whom used to be president? Both of whom have daughters but no sons? Both of whom won two terms? That is a comedy premise that just smacks you upside the head with its sheer-genius watchability. And it wouldn’t be a comedy; it would be real life!

Imagine the episodic possibilities: Bill and Barack disrupt the first cabinet meeting with their weekly poker game; Bill and Barack grill burgers in the Rose Garden and “accidentally” set the Oval Office on fire; Bill and Barack sneak out of the house and travel to North Korea with Dennis Rodman!

Any agents out there, we could script 10 shows of this in an hour, and we work cheap.

Now it’s time for equal time. Is it possible a Hillary-Michelle ticket would be awful? We can think of some ways.

The patriarchy’s revenge. It’s true that females ever so slightly make up a majority of US voters. But if males united against a perceived threat to their gender power, that could be a boost to the GOP. It’s possible Republicans could overcome the fact that the GOP lags in attracting minority voters.

There’s already a reverse gender gap, with more men voting Republican than Democratic. Exacerbate that, and the Democrats might lose their nascent demographic advantage in presidential races.

Game of Oval Office thrones. No, we’re not suggesting any actual swordplay might occur in a Hillary-Michelle White House. But given that the ticket would unite two powerful Democratic clans that have clashed in the past, it’s possible that the infighting might get intense if they were actually elected.

Mrs. Obama might feel her experience fits her for something other than a VP’s traditional water carrying. Mrs. Clinton might feel otherwise, sending Bill to inform the veep of her impending inspection tour of Iceland. Yikes.

Why bother? You know, both Mrs. Clinton and Mrs. Obama have already had pretty important roles to play. Secretary of State is maybe the second-most interesting job in America, after that of the presidency, and it draws much less scrutiny and has much more freedom of action. As first lady, Mrs. Obama has a better job than VP, let’s face it. She’s got more power to shape the nation with her example, and she gets to sleep in the White House, not the VP’s mansion out on Observatory Circle in Northwest D.C.

Though Observatory Circle is a lot closer to Sasha and Malia’s school.

Sarah Palin will be releasing her third book in November, criticizing the commercialism and homogenization of Christmas. ((J. Scott Applewhite/AP))

The war on Sarah Palin's Christmas book (+video)

By Staff writer / 03.12.13

Yes, Sarah Palin is writing a book about Christmas. The former Alaska governor has inked a deal with HarperCollins to produce “A Happy Holiday IS a Merry Christmas,” scheduled for November release. The semi-memoir will include details of Palin Christmases past while criticizing the “over-commercialism” and “homogenization” of Christmas, according to a publisher news release.

“This will be a fun, festive, thought provoking book, which will encourage all to see what is possible when we unite in defense of our faith and ignore the politically correct Scrooges who would rather take Christ out of Christmas,” Ms. Palin said in a statement released by her publishers.

As you might imagine, this development has led to an explosion of comment in America’s social-media spaces. Given the unrestrained nature of electronic communication, much of this discussion has been less than profound. It ranges from Sarah supporters chanting “2016! 2016!” to opponents expressing gratitude that something will soon fill empty remainder bins at the remaining brick-and-mortar Barnes & Noble stores.

Calm down, everybody. Neither nirvana nor the apocalypse has arrived. Let’s run through the most likely ramifications of this fizzy development.

Christmas won't change. Conservatives such as Bill O’Reilly have been railing against the War on Christmas for years. It’s a Fox News staple once fall wanes. A quick search for “war on Christmas” books produces a lengthy list including John Gibson’s “The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought,” published in 2005.

Yet over-commercialization starts earlier every year. Retail chains have become ever-more dependent on holiday-season shopping. Palin might have better success sparking a political revolt against the war on Thanksgiving. Squeezed between Halloween candy and costume sales and Black Friday shopping sprees, the simple family turkey dinner of yore is truly endangered.

Palin's not coming back. She's always been right here. Some pundits are putting two and two together and getting political comeback. Palin’s got a new book coming out, and she’s been given an extra-long speaking time at this week’s Conservative Political Action Conference.

“Could it be time for a mini-comeback? You betcha,” writes Daily Beast D.C. bureau chief and veteran Washington pundit Howard Kurtz.

No. And can we stop with the “you betcha”? It’s funny when Tina Fey does it. You’re no Tina Fey.

Palin is one of the most polarizing figures in the history of modern US politics. Her positives are high, and she has millions of excited supporters. But her negatives are really low, and she has tens of millions of excited opponents who love to read bad things about her, like how she screwed up the story of Paul Revere’s ride.

She didn’t run in 2012 because she would have lost. She won’t run in 2016 because she would still lose. She’s got stiff competition from Rep. Michele Bachmann, among others, for the role of GOP folksy firebrand.

She is what she’s been since the end of the 2008 campaign: a celebritician, or polebrity, if you will. She combines conservative political positions with personal fame to advance both ideological positions and the Palin brand.

Mr. Kurtz writes that Palin “does need a bigger platform than Twitter or Facebook if she’s going to get back into the cultural relevancy game.” Great! Call when you find a bigger platform than Facebook: We’ll open an account. If only she’d signed on with Newsweek. Oh, right.

Palin lost her speaking gig on Fox News because she’s not impressive as a commentator. She got an extra-long spot at CPAC because she’s great at giving set speeches. End of story.

It's all about the Wilsons. The highest denomination of US currency ever printed was a $100,000 bill featuring the portrait of Woodrow Wilson. Though only issued for a few months in 1935, the Wilsons illustrate our point that besides whatever ideology motivates Palin, this is mostly about making money.

It does not mean she’s desperate. The very funny Alexandra Petri writes in her Washington Post humor column, “Christmas books are like Christmas albums: They are not things you make and announce in March when your career is going anywhere good.” Not true! Bob Dylan issued a Christmas album in 2009 (although we don’t know when he announced it). He’s not exactly Kenny G.

As the Associated Press story on the Palin book notes, the terms of her contract were negotiated by Washington lawyer Robert Barnett. What it does not say is that Mr. Barnett is the most insider, establishment, blue-chip book attorney in the nation’s capital. He’s negotiated lucrative deals for everybody from Bob Woodward to a then-little-known lawmaker named Barack Obama.

That means Palin will be making a hefty sum – probably via a lucrative holiday speaking tour as well as pure book sales. That’s the Barnett way.

Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, Osama bin Laden's son-in-law and Al Qaeda spokesman. Abu Ghaith faces an arraignment Friday in New York. ((AP Photo/Al-Jazeera) )

Why Republicans want a military trial for Osama bin Laden's son in law (+video)

By Staff writer / 03.08.13

UPDATED: 11:15 a.m.

Some Republicans are livid that Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, the son-in-law of Osama bin Laden, is facing a civilian trial – instead of a military trial.

They see this as a political move intended to build a case for closing the US military prison in Guantanamo, Cuba. President Barack Obama has said that he wants more foreign terror suspects charged in American federal courts, not in military tribunals at Guantanamo.

Abu Ghaith pleaded 'not guilty' in an arraignment in New York City Friday morning. His trial will be a high-profile case, a rare prosecution of a senior Al Qaeda leader in under US civil law. 

But Republicans don't want foreign terrorists tried on US soil. They say the legal precedent has been set for "enemy combatants" to be tried at Guantanamo Bay. They are concerned that giving Abu Ghaith a civilian trial will result in lost intelligence.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R of N.H.) told reporters that by bringing Ghaith to New York, he would be entitled to the same rights as a citizen, including a speedy trial and Miranda rights, according to Politico. “We don't want him to come to America before he has been fully interrogated – before he comes to America and hears the words, ‘You have the right to remain silent.’”

"We believe the administration's decision here to bring this person to New York City, if that's what's happened, without letting Congress know is a very bad precedent to set," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, (R of S.C.) in a press conference Thursday.

Senator Ayotte also told reporters that "When we find somebody like this, this close to bin Laden and the senior Al Qaeda leadership, the last thing in the world we want to do, in my opinion, is put them in civilian court. This man should be in Guantanamo Bay."

"So we're putting the administration on notice," Senator Graham said. "We think that sneaking this guy into the country, clearly going around the intent of Congress when it comes to enemy combatants, will be challenged."

In a statement on the website of the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge George Venizelos described Sulaiman Abu Ghayth as holding "a key position in al Qaeda, comparable to the consigliere in a mob family or propaganda minister in a totalitarian regime. He used his position to persuade others to swear loyalty to al Qaeda’s murderous cause. He used his position to threaten the United States and incite its enemies. His apprehension is another important step in the campaign to limit the reach of al Qaeda and enhance our national and international security.”

On the morning of September 12, 2001, Abu Ghayth, appeared with Bin Laden and Zawahiri, and spoke on behalf of al Qaeda, warning the United States and its allies that “[a] great army is gathering against you” and called upon “the nation of Islam” to do battle against “the Jews, the Christians and the Americans.” Also, after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Abu Ghayth delivered a speech in which he addressed the then-US Secretary of State and warned that “the storms shall not stop, especially the Airplanes Storm,” and advised Muslims, children, and opponents of the United States “not to board any aircraft and not to live in high rises.”

The indictment charges Abu Ghayth with participating in a conspiracy to kill United States nationals, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 2332(b). The offense carries a maximum term of imprisonment for life.

Fox News host Sean Hannity speaks in Salt Lake City. Mr. Hannity and guest Rep. Keith Ellison got into a heated debate n his show Tuesday over who to blame for the sequester, which led to the two exchanging personal insults. (Douglas C. Pizac/AP/File)

Sean Hannity vs. Rep. Keith Ellison: Who won epic argument?

By Staff Writer / 02.27.13

Is Sean Hannity the “worst excuse for a journalist” in the US? Or is Rep. Keith Ellison (D) of Minnesota “a total waste of time” as a television guest?

Yes, that’s the edifying discussion the Fox News host and Representative Ellison had on Mr. Hannity’s show Tuesday night. Politico is calling it “one of the most explosive and contentious arguments between an anchor and a politician in recent history.” We don’t know about that, but we’re pretty sure nobody who saw it thought they’d tuned in to “Downton Abbey” by mistake.

To us, it represented everything wrong about cable shows. Plus, everything that’s watchable, unfortunately. We’ll call it nacho dip TV – you know it’s bad for you but you just can’t stop consuming it.

Here’s the background: The conservative Hannity had just played a segment in which he appeared to place the blame for the sequester on President Obama. It included clips of Mr. Obama giving two similar speeches on the question, set to the lyric song “O Fortuna,” which is the kind of thing they use as background music in “Game of Thrones.”

Ellison, a Muslim, and Hannity have clashed in the past over intemperate remarks the former had made about the Bush administration and its handling of the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. So the lawmaker was already in the blocks, so to speak. As Hannity threw the show to him he’d already thought of the point he wanted to make in the show, no matter the question.

“Quite frankly you are the worst excuse for a journalist I have ever seen,” Ellison said.

Hannity then gets a half-smile on his face. It could be pleasure that he’s baited his guest into a showdown. It could be covering nervousness, as if he didn’t quite believe his ears.

“What?” said the Fox News host. “I didn’t hear you.”

It went downhill from there. Ellison rolled along, making the general point that he believes the Republicans more to blame for the current fiscal mess, while Hannity sort of played rope-a-dope, sitting back and occasionally throwing in a punch when his guest paused for breath.

Here’s our first reaction: This is why we dislike cable news. It isn’t that they argue. It’s that they argue about irrelevant stuff.

David Graham at The Atlantic elucidates this idea at length: Really, does it matter whose idea the sequester was at this point? We know Bob Woodward thinks it does, and he’s a journalistic god, but for us it’s like the crew of the Titanic getting into a spat about who thought it was a good idea to take the North Atlantic route while the iceberg looms in front of them.

As Mr. Graham says, both parties agreed to it and voted to approve it.

“Trying to place the blame for the sequester is both a fool’s errand and a parlor game that has consumed much of the Washington media over the last week or so, as the lack of substantive progress towards stopping the sequester has left pundits and reporters with little else to talk about,” he writes.

All that said, here’s our second reaction: What pros!

Watch them go at it. Whether Hannity had an idea that his guest would explode or not, he rolls with it pretty well. You can see that he knows he’s about to get the same kind of free media publicity that Piers Morgan got when that pro-gun guest Alex Jones went wild on his show.

That’s why Hannity just lets it go on. If he truly wanted to argue, he’d have hit the kill button earlier. He let it last about six minutes, which is about as long as any guest interview goes before they cut to something else. In that sense, he won. He got what his producers wanted. He’s getting tons of attention today.

But Ellison is going to be hero to many on the left for his rant. And did you notice that he never stopped smiling? Yes, he ranted while trying to look unthreatening. That’s what they teach you in media appearance school. If nothing else, Ellison’s press secretary must have been proud.

Comedian Conan O'Brien will host the White House Correspondents' Association dinner on April 27. (Michael Dwyer/AP/File)

White House correspondents' dinner: Conan O'Brien too safe for 'nerd prom'? (+video)

By Staff writer / 02.20.13

Orange-haired late-night funnyman Conan O’Brian will perform at this year’s White House Correspondents’ Association dinner. Politico reported the news this morning and WHCA officials confirmed it later in the day. It will be the second appearance for Conan at the famous-for-Washington “Nerd Prom,” the capital’s annual gathering of celebrities, politicians, lobbyists, corporate executives, and a few working reporters.

Conan has done this once before, in 1995. Back then he made fun of Bill Clinton’s failed health-care reform effort, Judge Ito (remember the O.J. trial?), and Nick Nolte’s portrayal of Thomas Jefferson in a movie about same. But it was all fairly tame, despite Mr. O’Brien’s mid-'90s rep as the cutting-edge guy of late night.

That’s perhaps why he’s doing a return gig: The WHCA is all about safe at its dinner these days. It doesn’t want a rerun of the 2006 Stephen Colbert debacle. Mr. Colbert skewered President George W. Bush without mercy, and then moved on to savage the press and Washington in general. The C-SPAN audience might have loved it, but it didn’t play well in the room.

O’Brien is already making the sort of policy-based jokes Washingtonians like. On his Twitter feed Wednesday he said, “I’m honored to host the WH Correspondents dinner. Get ready for 2minutes of jokes, then 40 minutes on public employee pension reform.”

(Here’s what Washington is like: There will be people in the audience who will be disappointed when the pension-reform discussion doesn’t show up.)

Then there was his tweet from Feb. 18, in which he said that “in honor of Presidents’ Day, I won’t be getting along with Congress.”

See, that’s funny because in general the executive and legislative branches clash due to different prerogatives and priorities and ... oh, sorry, this isn’t Brookings?

Anyway, there are some people who think Conan is too safe. Right now, the WHCA is involved in a spat with the White House over not getting access to President Obama’s golf game with Tiger Woods last weekend and limited access in general. By going with a safe choice of entertainment, the group seems, well, toothless. Or at least overly fond of the status quo, according to Alyssa Rosenberg of the liberal ThinkProgress website.

“I’m not saying thinking more creatively and independently about who is going to host the Association’s dinner will come close to fixing all the problems of the White House press corps. But it might help the Association consider who it wants to represent the organization on that dais, what role it thinks it’s members have, and its own capacity to take a joke – and criticism,” Rosenberg writes.

As for us, we’re wondering what Conan is going to get paid. Ex-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is now reportedly asking upwards of $200,000 per speech. Do comedians make that kind of money?

Not according to the Form 990s that the WHCA must file with the IRS. According to its paperwork for 2011, the latest available, that giant dinner grosses about $630,000. Of that, about $250,000 goes to charitable contributions for things such as journalism scholarships. In 2011, the room and food cost $382,000.

Entertainment? Their 2011 line item for that was a measly $10,000. Of course, the headliner that year was Seth Meyers, who is great on Saturday Night Live but not exactly making Jay Leno worry about his job.

Mr. Leno himself was the 2010 speaker. Entertainment that year cost $43,000, according to IRS records. Maybe O’Brien will get that. Or maybe all of the comedians should ring up Mrs. Clinton and ask for the name of her agent.

'Walmart moms': struggling but hopeful … and estranged from Congress

By Staff writer / 02.14.13

Life isn’t easy for “Walmart moms” – women with children at home who shop at least once a month at the world’s largest retailer. They are struggling to pay the bills and raise their kids. Most are married; some are their family’s sole breadwinner after their husband’s layoff.

They use words like “busy” and even “chaotic” to describe their lives, but through it all, they remain hopeful, two focus groups conducted this week reveal about this key bloc of swing voters.

“Without hope, what do you have?” says Courtney G. from Kansas City, Mo., a mother of two young children who works two part-time jobs. Her husband was laid off, and his severance is running out.

A bipartisan team of pollsters began studying this demographic in 2008, and has been tracking their views since. Walmart moms represent about 15 percent of the electorate; half have household incomes under $50,000 a year, 60 to 70 percent are white, and almost half are college-educated.

They voted for Barack Obama in 2008, swung Republican in the 2010 midterms, and voted narrowly to reelect President Obama last fall. In other words, they mirror the electorate as a whole, and can offer clues to both parties on how to address the issues of the day.

“They have logistical struggles and difficulties,” says Margie Omero of Momentum Analysis, a Democratic polling firm. “That’s the prism and the lens through which they view all political issues.”

The focus groups of 10 women each – one in Kansas City, the other in Philadelphia – met on Wednesday to discuss Obama’s State of the Union address the night before. A few women had watched the whole speech, but most had not. After all, they’re busy moms, juggling work, school, kids’ activities, volunteering, and family time.

Videotapes of the two sessions were presented to a group of reporters in Washington on Thursday.

The focus group organizers – Momentum Analysis and the Republican firm Public Opinion Strategies – showed the women clips from Obama’s speech and then solicited comments. When asked if Washington politicians understand their lives, the answer was a resounding “no.”

“There’s a certain amount of isolation,” said Maggie L., a homemaker from Kansas City. “Even the good people get sucked in.”

The women described members of Congress as living lives of luxury, while average folks like them are barely getting by.

One woman described her family’s decision to walk away from their mortgage and into a rental to save money. Others spoke about the cost of gas, bread, and health insurance. Eating out is rare.

But life is not joyless: Instead of going out, one said, cooking dinner and watching a movie together at home can be just as fun.

Still, even if these women are, on average, hopeful about their families, they’re less optimistic about Washington. Few see an end to the partisan gridlock anytime soon. But eventually, a few said, there will be a breakthrough.

“Some things have to get done,” said Katie M., a resource manager and mother of three from Philadelphia, listing taxes and guns as areas for potential progress.

Jackie A., a consultant from Philadelphia with one child, predicts Congress will act on immigration, because of the last election. “It’s all about numbers,” she says, perhaps alluding to Republican Mitt Romney’s poor performance among Latino voters.

For many women, issues like immigration and climate change seem a bit disconnected from their daily concerns. Gun violence sparked a lively discussion, but did not produce the kind of ideological divide that shows up in Washington. Many of the gun-owners in the group supported limits or bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

In both groups, the Obama proposal that got the most animated response was universal public preschool. These are women who either have kids in or not far from their preschool years (before and after), and the idea spoke to what they see in their daily lives: that prekindergarten gives kids a leg up academically, but for many families who have no public option, private preschool is unaffordable. One woman’s mother-in-law was paying her four-year-old’s tuition.

So score one for Obama – tapping into a real-life issue. Though quickly, the women began to talk about the practical concerns of public pre-K. How would it be funded? And if it’s not full-day, how do working parents shuttle their kids around?

“What about parents without cars?” asked Colleen W., a homemaker in Kansas City.

Ardely V., also of Kansas City, commented on one of the central conundrums of today’s political debate. “We are all looking for the government to help, but then we say that government has too much control,” she said, suggesting that parents should take more responsibility in their children’s early education. “Everything interrelates.”

And what about the economy, the central political issue of the day? Obama’s proposal to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $9.00 an hour didn’t impress the Walmart moms. That’s good for a high school student making pocket money, many said, but hardly a living wage. Some expressed concern that raising the minimum wage will put pressure on prices.

On the issue of persistent high unemployment, politicians have been talking “jobs” for so long that a lot of the women tune out.

“It’s almost like they have earmuffs on, they can’t quite hear it, they’ve heard it for so long,” says Nicole McCleskey of Public Opinion Strategies, the Republican firm. “There’s been a lot of promises, and they just haven’t seen the results.”

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