What we at The Hotline learned this week:
-- The wave of mass shootings this year, punctuated by the most horrific crime committed in the U.S. since Virginia Tech, is taking a toll on all of us. Witness the President of the United States, who deals with life and death every day, choking up at the podium, in a room named for another victim of gun violence. The growing anger is putting to rest that most tired cliche, that most inexcusable excuse -- that the day of a tragedy is not a day to discuss policy or solutions. Today, and every day thereafter, is the day to debate, loudly and completely, until the violence ends.
Watch gun control backers push President Obama to make a stand and actually propose legislation. Obama has been reluctant to be the first one out of the gate on liberal social policies (gay marriage being the most striking example). But once his party pushes him, this leader races to get ahead of those he's leading.
-- Bitter primaries may have something to do with increased polarization in Congress, but the fiscal cliff stand-off proves it's not everything. Most lame duck members, whether retired or defeated, seem unwilling to budge from party orthodoxy even though they've been freed from the demands of the electorate. The private pressure on members from lobbyists, friends, and colleagues also contributes to the gridlock; it's just a little harder to see.
-- An over-used (and often inaccurate) political analysis is the claim that a politician can improve his or her standing and name ID for a future statewide by running a losing campaign in the current cycle. It's rarely helpful to any politician's career to lose a race, but it does happen from time to time: Those encouraging Cory Booker to challenge Chris Christie can point to the example of Jim McGreevey, who had a tough primary in 1997, yet came close to defeating then-popular Gov. Christie Todd Whitman. Four years later, he had no primary and enjoyed a fairly easy general election victory as well. In a state as blue as New Jersey, any Democratic nominee has a decent chance to win any statewide race, and virtually no Democrat could lose by a margin large enough to embarrass him or her.
-- In a sign of growing tensions between House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and conservatives, Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., appeared on MSNBC (of all places!) to trash him on Wednesday night. The "conservative purge" -- of which Huelskamp was a victim -- continues to inflame the right, a group that was already worried Boehner would sell them out in the fiscal cliff talks. With Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., out of the running, Boehner's speakership looks safe for the 113th Congress, but it may not be smooth.
-- The House Committee on Ethics announced Friday that it considering an investigation into Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Ill., and whether he committed a violation by soliciting House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's $25,000 donation from his leadership PAC to a super PAC. (Candidates for and holders of federal office are only allowed to solicit super PAC donations of $5,000 or below; that's the reason Mitt Romney, for example, could speak at super PAC fundraisers during the presidential campaign, but he had to leave the room before supporters asked for unlimited donations.) As we noted at the time, the Federal Election Commission is deadlocked by partisanship, making investigations unlikely and rare. But the House ethics committee has shown more willingness to investigate members in a bipartisan fashion, and this incident could end up clarifying some of the confusing rules surrounding new instruments of campaign finance, like super PACs, that never get tested because the FEC can't muster the will.
-- Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., gave his Senate farewell speech this week -- but he also saw a new opportunity to run for Senate become more likely. With UN Ambassador Susan Rice withdrawing her name from consideration, Sen. John Kerry now looks like the favorite for secretary of state, which would trigger a special election in Massachusetts next year. Though Brown just came off a bruising campaign, he's signaling his desire to run again (he noted in his speech that defeat is only temporary, and he penned a Boston Globe op-ed in which he wrote that "there's always a second chance.") And despite the negative campaign, he finished with high favorability ratings, and would likely run without GOP opposition while Democrats first battle in out in a primary.
-- Michigan Democrats eager to take down Gov. Rick Snyder in 2014 may have their efforts complicated if Sen. Carl Levin chooses to retire. An open Senate race would force the party to play defense on an otherwise safe seat and could divert resources (and candidates) that otherwise would have been focused on unseating Snyder. Democrats would also be tasked with boosting the name ID of two candidates rather than solely focusing on boosting the profile of Snyder's challenger.
-- Expect to see labor unions like AFL-CIO launching aggressive campaigns against Republicans in 2014. Labor unions already have their eyes set on taking out not just Snyder, but also Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett. Since 2012 was the first cycle the law allowed unions to target all voters, unions have learned a lot, and plan to target even more voters in the next cycle.
-- In the special election for former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.'s seat, Cook County Democrats are heading to a slating session today to endorse a candidate. But don't expect anyone to emerge with the over 50 percent support needed to get slated -- while state Sen. Donne Trotter (who was arrested last week for attempting to bring a gun through airport security) appears to have the most support of anyone locked up going into the meeting, it's likely that no one in the crowded field will garner enough to emerge with the endorsement.