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Politics

Did Chuck Hagel Fail?

February 1, 2013

TOP FIVE

DID CHUCK HAGEL FAIL? The strong, silent approach worked for former Sen. Chuck Hagel when he was in Congress and able to ask the questions. But it wasn’t working on Thursday, as National Journal’s Michael Hirsh observes. In the hot seat before the Senate Armed Services Committee, President Obama’s choice for Defense secretary got it from all sides—from some Democrats and a battery of hostile Republicans—who began by praising his service to the nation and then proceeded to eviscerate him. During the daylong hearings, Hagel appeared to lose Republican after Republican—and even a few Democrats looked doubtful. Read more

WANT A FRIEND IN WASHINGTON? DON’T CALL JOHN MCCAIN. In the real world, when somebody calls you an old friend, it matters. You can take them at their word. In Washington, ground zero for hypocrisy and posturing, “friend” is a 4-letter word and "old friend" is double trouble. Such was the case during a clash between Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and former Sen. Chuck Hagel at Hagel’s confirmation hearing. The encounter was emblematic of Washington, where shallow friendships, intense polarization, and rampant hypocrisy flourish. It was all on display Thursday as Hagel dodged and stumbled over attempts by Republicans to hold him accountable for past statements on Iraq, Israel, Syria, and other trouble spots. Read more

 

SENATE APPROVES DEBT-CEILING BILL. The Senate approved a measure 64-34 on Thursday to suspend the $16.4 trillion limit on federal borrowing, following its passage last week by the GOP-led House. The bill will now go to Obama, who has said he will sign it, averting a situation in which the government may have defaulted on its debt this month. The bill also requires both chambers to pass a budget by April 15 or risk losing their pay. Read more 

HOW LYNCH COULD SURPRISE IN MASS. SENATE RACE. Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., on Thursday launched his candidacy for the Massachusetts Senate seat being vacated by incoming Secretary of State John Kerry, The Boston Globe reported. “Shame on us to allow someone to clear the field, box out all the other candidates, and buy the election,” he said from Springfield, taking a swipe at Rep. Edward Markey, the only other Democrat in the race so far. All three men, Lynch, Markey, and Kerry, attended a meeting of the state party in Boston on Thursday night, along with newly elected Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Be sure to check out Hotline’s take on how Lynch, a former irownworker from South Boston, could surprise everyone in the race. Read more

MENENDEZ REIMBURSES DONOR FOR TRIPS. Sen. Robert Menendez recently wrote a $58,000 personal check to a Florida doctor who had flown the New Jersey Democrat on two private-plane trips to the Dominican Republic, NBC New York reports. Menendez’s office called the three-year lag in payment “sloppy” and “an oversight.” The doctor, Salomon Melgen, had his home raided by the FBI this week, and the case is raising tough questions for Menendez, including accusations that the senator was involved with prostitutes in the Dominican Republic. On Thursday, Majority Leader Harry Reid called Menendez “my friend” but declined to comment further. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., defended Menendez, calling his situation a “terrible tragedy.” Read more 

CONGRESS

RUBIO SAYS HE WON’T VOTE FOR HAGEL. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who had not indicated how he would vote on secretary of Defense nominee Chuck Hagel, said Thursday that he intended to vote against the former Nebraska senator, Politico reports. Citing policy differences on Cuba and Iran, Rubio said in a statement, “Unfortunately, his policy views are too far apart from what I believe to be the way forward for preserving America’s proper role in the world as a force for security and peace.” The vote for Hagel could prove to be tight, according to a whip count by Foreign Policy, though The Washington Post reports that administration officials are confident in Hagel’s prospects. Read more

HARRY REID PUTS LEGACY IN HANDS OF OTHERS. Like any good CEO, the Democratic Senate majority leader is delegating to a group of empowered lieutenants. Unlike some recent high-profile, back-room deals—the 2011 debt-limit and fiscal-cliff deals, to name two—the Nevadan is running immigration, guns, and the budget through the regular process. That means giving power back to committee chairs, a turfy bunch who were none too pleased to be left on the sidelines in the recent fiscal debates, National Journal’s Chris Frates reports. Read more

LINDSEY GRAHAM SURVIVING IMMIGRATION REFORM. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina isn’t the only Republican who has ticked off his party’s activist base on immigration. But he is one of very few who brings up the sensitive issue close to reelection campaigns. He risked his Senate seat to fight for comprehensive reforms in 2007, and he is now the only senator in the “Gang of Eight” who is on the ballot in 2014. Graham needs to make the sale to a conservative Palmetto State electorate. “I’m going to make you a bet," Graham told National Journal. "I’m going to get reelected if I’m doing smart things for people in the country and the party.” Read more

GERALDO RIVERA MULLS SENATE RUN IN N.J. As if the New Jersey Senate race didn't have enough star power already, Geraldo Rivera (with his arguably just-as-famous mustache) is weighing a run. Rivera said on his radio show Thursday that he's been talking to some New Jersey Republicans about it and that he's "truly contemplating running for Senate against Frank Lautenberg or Cory Booker." Rivera could face tough competition in a primary, though, The Hill reports, from state Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick of Westfield, state Sen. Joe Kyrillos of Monmouth County, and Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, who are all considering a run. Read more

WHITE HOUSE

WHITE HOUSE JOBS COUNCIL CLOSES UP SHOP. A much-ballyhooed panel of CEOs, economists, and labor figures that President Obama had hoped would help spur job growth is shutting down, Politico reported. The 26-member President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness had not met in six months. “Council officials said the lack of public meetings over the past year did not indicate that the council was dormant,” Politico reported. “The group met four times in 2011 and 2012, fashioning about 60 proposals that were largely adopted by the administration and 30 legislative proposals that remain largely unfulfilled.” The White House said ending of the council was part of a “new, expanded effort to work with the business community and other outside groups.” Read more

BIDEN AND WIFE HEAD TO EUROPE. Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, will travel to Germany, France, and the United Kingdom this weekend. The pair will arrive in Germany this afternoon and return to Washington next Tuesday. The trip, Biden’s first overseas as vice president, will allow him to attend the 45th Munich Conference on Security Policy. "The gathering attracts senior government officials from around the world who often use the meeting to discuss diplomacy in an informal setting," according to the Associated Press. Read more

WHY THE WHITE HOUSE LOVES WEIRD PETITIONS. The White House's We the People petitions range from the inane to the downright bizarre. But behind the oddity is a carefully calculated strategy, Time's Michael Scherer writes. First, the petitions allow Obama to explain his views to passionate people who might never watch his inaugural addresses or the State of the Union speeches. And second, it gives the White House staff a list of thousands of e-mails for people on every side of the issue—each signatory gives the White House the right to respond to them on that topic. Read more

WHITE HOUSE ENLISTS CEO HELP ON IMMIGRATION. Administration officials held a conference call Wednesday with executives of the nation's largest companies to explain their proposed policies on immigration reform, Bloomberg reports. "On the half-hour call, Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to President Barack Obama, and National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling advocated for an immigration package that includes tougher border security, better work verification systems, and a pathway to citizenship for undocumented workers," Bloomberg reported. Read more

NATIONAL SECURITY

HAGEL DEFENDS RECORD, PROMISES STRONG U.S. MILITARY. On Thursday morning, Hagel read from a prepared statement before the Senate Armed Services Committee, addressing his critics, expressing strong support for Israel, and making the case for a forceful American military presence. Hagel gave his opinions on U.S. forces in Afghanistan—they should only remain to hunt down al-Qaida and advise Afghan security—and defended his Senate votes against unilateral sanctions on Iran in 2001 and 2002: “We were at a different place,” he said. Foreign Policy took a look at Hagel’s opinion on reducing nuclear arms, which conservatives have argued Hagel wants to eliminate. And Wired examined the limited role Hagel envisions for the U.S. in the current Mali conflict. Read more

TARGETED KILLINGS: OBAMA’S ENDLESS WARS. As fate would have it, a rare confluence of events is opening a brief window into the Obama administration’s targeted killing program, offering the world perhaps the best opportunity to examine in detail an operation that claimed its first suspected terrorist way back in 2001, as National Journal’s James Kitfield reports. Read more

IRAN SAYS IT WILL DOUBLE URANIUM-ENRICHMENT SPEED. Iran told the United Nations on Thursday that it plans to install more-sophisticated equipment at its main nuclear plant, allowing the plant to accelerate uranium processing. The announcement, made in a letter delivered to the U.N. by an Iranian diplomat based in Vienna, said that the upgrade at the nuclear plant in Natanz could double or triple the enrichment process. Iran has long maintained its advancements are for civilian purposes, but the United States and its allies, particularly Israel, charge that these represent steps toward nuclear weapons. Read more

SYRIA, IRAN THREATEN RETALIATION AFTER ISRAELI AIRSTRIKE. After Israel’s rare airstrike within Syria’s borders Wednesday, Syria threatened on Thursday to retaliate and Iran said there would be “repercussions.” Russia, another Syrian ally, condemned the Israeli attack on Thursday. U.S. officials have said Israel was targeting a truck convoy reportedly carrying antiaircraft weapons for the anti-Israeli Hezbollah group in Lebanon, the Associated Press reported. Syria has maintained that the target was a scientific facility near Damascus, and denied the existence of the convoy. Neither Syria nor Iran gave a timeline or specifics for any retaliatory measures. Read more

UNIFIED AGAINST MORSI, EGYPTIAN POLITICAL RIVALS MEET. Rival political groups came to the table for a series of talks on Thursday, suggesting Egypt might be one step closer to an eventual dialogue between President Mohamed Morsi and the secular opposition groups protesting Morsi’s tenure. Chaired by Egypt’s leading cleric, Grand Imam Ahmed al-Tayyeb, the meetings promoted a national dialogue “in which all the components of the Egyptian society participate without any exclusion.” Morsi did not comment directly on the meetings, though he rejected a call for a unity government. The head of Morsi’s Freedom and Justice Party, the Muslim Brotherhood’s political wing, did attend the meetings on Thursday. Read more

WANT TO BE AN AMBASSADOR? WRITE A CHECK. Landing a diplomatic post in a luxurious, safe European country has often been an unspoken reward for raising money in a presidential campaign. Just like all modern presidents before him, Obama has appointed friends and donors to about 30 percent of diplomatic posts. There is no official monetary threshold to be appointed, but a recent study found, “political ambassadors who had made campaign donations of $550,000, or bundled contributions of $750,000, had a 90 percent chance of being posted to a country in Western Europe.” Read more 

POLITICS

BIDEN IS ALMOST CERTAINLY RUNNING. The vice president is forming a team to lay the groundwork for a potential presidential run in 2016. Among current Biden strategists, insiders describe Mike Donilon as the first among equals, while people close to Biden say Steve Ricchetti, a Clinton White House deputy chief of staff, is on the ascendancy in the inner circle, as National Journal’s Jim O’Sullivan reports. Read more

WILL CLINTON RUN IN 2016? Will Hillary Rodham Clinton seek the presidency in 2016? Clinton herself doesn’t know. Friends expect her to rest a year or so before taking a final measure of her health and her prospects. As she prepares to serve her last day as secretary of State, National Journal’s Ron Fournier, who has covered her for more than two decades, reflects on Clinton’s immense talent and ambition, and draws one conclusion:  Never bet against Hillary Rodham Clinton. Read more

FORMER NYC MAYOR ED KOCH DIES. Ed Koch, mayor of New York City from 1978 to 1989, died at the age of 88 early this morning, according to a family spokesman. Koch oversaw the city during a pivotal transition period with his outsized personality, affable-yet-acerbic demeanor, and at-times divisive policies. Koch led the city from the throes of its bankruptcy in the 1970s, resurrecting the city’s finances and its famed subway system. But critics charged that he let homelessness and AIDS spread sharply during his tenure. A documentary about his life, “Koch” premiers today in New York City. At a screening earlier this week, filmmaker Neil Barsky said, “He’s funny, he’s in your face, he had a style as a politician that practically does not exist anymore. He would go into the Bronx and debate people. He was one of the great street politicians.” Read more

NRCC, DCCC START 2014 CYCLE ON EQUAL FINANCIAL FOOTING. The National Republican Congressional Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee begin the 2014 election cycle on nearly equal financial footing, according to fundraising reports filed on Thursday. The year-end reports—the last of the 2012 cycle—show the DCCC with $13.45 million in debt and $1.49 million cash on hand, according to an aide with the committee. Those figures are slightly lower than the NRCC, which, according to a spokeswoman, will report $12 million in debt and $1.5 million available. Read more

WHY OBAMA IS GIVING UP ON RIGHT-LEANING WHITES. For decades, Democrats shaped their politics around fears of losing right-leaning white voters to the GOP. But Obama’s winning coalition has altered that calculus. On issues from gay rights to gun control, immigration reform, and climate change, Obama is now unreservedly articulating the preferences of a coalition centered on minorities, the millennial generation, and socially liberal upscale whites, as National Journal’s Ronald Brownstein reports. Read more

HARKIN DEPARTURE JOLTS IOWA POLITICS. Two years from now, Iowa's long-static political landscape could be nearly unrecognizable. Plenty of dominoes have yet to fall following Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin's decision to retire next year, but when they do, they'll fall fast—and the effects will likely be felt as far down as the state's legislative races. Three of the state's four representatives are seen as likely contenders to replace Harkin. Meanwhile, Democrats express confidence they can knock off five-term Republican Gov. Terry Branstad, but Harkin's exit will have repercussions on their candidate pool in that race as well. Read more

LABOR COMING AROUND ON IMMIGRATION. When President Obama delivered a major speech trumpeting immigration reform from Las Vegas earlier this week, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka sat in the front row, right in front of the podium. Such a show of support from labor would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. So what’s changed? For one, unions have a much stronger relationship with the current Democratic administration, which bailed out the auto industry and adopted other pro-labor policies. And as the fast-growing Hispanic community demonstrated its political power in the 2008 and 2012 elections, immigration reform rose to the top of the labor movement’s agenda. Read more

ENERGY

HAGEL: ALTERNATIVE ENERGY WOULD BE A ‘HIGH PRIORITY.’ Hagel vowed to prioritize energy efficiency and the development of alternative fuels as secretary of Defense at his Senate confirmation hearing on Thursday. “I think our energy budget—I don't know the exact number but it's probably around $18 billion a year. Anything we can do to make any aspect of securing our country more cost-effective, we need to look at, and I would make that a high priority,” he said. “It's just clearly in the interest of our country, our resources, and our people.”

SENATOR’S KEYSTONE POSITION MAY SIGNAL COMING RETIREMENT. Tim Johnson of South Dakota was the lone Democratic senator from a conservative state facing reelection in 2014 not to sign a bipartisan letter calling on President Obama to greenlight the Keystone XL pipeline. Combined with recent statements, it’s a signal that he may be considering retirement. Johnson is one of seven Democratic senators from a state Mitt Romney won in 2012, a factor that makes him politically vulnerable. One of the group, Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, has already announced his retirement after recently taking positions on energy to the left of his constituents. Read more

WHY CLIMATE CHANGE IS A NATIONAL SECURITY ISSUE. John Kerry, the incoming secretary of State, says climate change will be a driving concern for him because it threatens national security. Kerry has long been a so-called climate hawk, framing his drive to stop global warming as driven by a desire to curb a force that inflames global conflict and poses a threat to U.S. safety. He has taken plenty of heat for that view among climate-change skeptics in the GOP, but defense and intelligence officials say the link between climate change and national security is clear, urgent, and dangerous—and a raft of national security experts say it’s high time the nation’s top foreign policy official treat it as such. Read more

ECONOMY & BUDGET

WHY HEALTH CARE CAN’T REPLACE MANUFACTURING. The recent economic recovery has come largely thanks to the health care industry, which has been steadily adding jobs even as other industries took a dive. That boost has helped the jobs picture stabilize and raised many communities out of the economic doldrums. But health care’s growing slice of our economic and employment pie will come at a big cost, as National Journal’s Margot Sanger-Katz reports. Read more

SENATE DEMS TAKING RISK IN BUDGET PLAY.  For the first time in four years, Democrats promise to put forward a budget. But such a thing will pose huge political risks, as NJ’s Nancy Cook reports. The biggest danger is that by putting forward a concrete plan, Senate Democrats will open themselves to new attacks on their spending priorities. That’s tricky terrain for a party with several vulnerable members up for reelection in 2014, including Sens. Mark Begich in Alaska, Max Baucus in Montana, Kay Hagan in North Carolina, Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, and Mark Pryor in Arkansas. “This time, the Democrats will be on record as having voted for something,” says Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., ranking member on the Budget Committee. “At some point, we’re all held accountable.” Read more

HOW CAN GOVERNMENT SPENDING RISE AND FALL? That’s the question The Wall Street Journal asks after looking at Wednesday’s report on the fourth-quarter gross domestic product. Federal spending took its biggest tumble in 40 years, according to the report, but the numbers were not in line with earlier Treasury figures that showed an increase in outlays. The discrepancy spawned some Internet conspiracy theorizing, and forced the Commerce Department to add a note to its Frequently Asked Questions. So what accounts for the discrepancy? Accounting, of course. Read more

DO DEFICIT DOVES AND DEFICIT HAWKS ACTUALLY AGREE? Michael Kinsley thinks so, arguing that the squabbling in Washington over the deficit does not mean the two sides are as far apart as you’d think.There's an old joke in academia about how the disputes there are so vicious because the stakes are so small,” Kinsley writes. “In the current debate about the government and the economy, the stakes are not small. But the breadth of disagreement between the two sides is smaller than anyone wishes to acknowledge.” Read more

U.S. TO BLOCK $20 BILLION BEER MERGER, BUT DEAL NOT DEAD. The Justice Department announced Thursday that it would block a deal by Anheuser-Busch InBev to buy Mexico’s Grupo Modelo SAB, saying that the merger would hurt consumers with less competition and higher prices. But a DOJ source tells Bloomberg that the government brought the suit because a deadline was looming and it wanted to “keep its options open.” Analysts still think the deal will go through, but will be delayed. AB InBev owns a 50-percent, noncontrolling stake in Modelo, which makes Corona Extra, the top imported beer in the U.S. AB InBev, maker of Budweiser, among other beers, said it would contest the decision in court. Read more

HEALTH CARE

EXPANDING MEDICAID IS GOOD FOR BUSINESS. Since the Supreme Court ruled that states could opt out of the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion, hospitals have been livid, because the health reform law's coverage expansion was key to balancing their books. But another group that has been less noticed will also stand to lose out in states that don’t expand: business. Companies in those states will be left picking up more of the costs of covering their state’s low-income population. Governors who oppose the health reform law typically do so on pro-business grounds. But rejecting the Medicaid expansion is one way that their opposition to the law will also be antibusiness. Read more

FINANCE COMMITTEE REPORT OFFERS RECOMMENDATIONS FOR MEDICARE. A bipartisan group of current and former members of the Senate Finance Committee released a report on Thursday detailing how to improve federal efforts to cut costs, waste, fraud and abuse in both Medicare and Medicaid. Led by Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Max Baucus, D-Mont., the ranking member and chairman of the committee, the report includes suggestions like increasing federal funding of Medicaid anti-fraud activities; eliminating duplication in anti-fraud programs; changing certain payment policies; and creating an advisory panel to provide clinical input in overseeing contractors. Read more

BUNDLED PAYMENTS TO EXPAND. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced Thursday that more than 500 organizations will begin participating in the Affordable Care Act’s Bundled Payments for Care Improvement initiative. CMS is hoping that by encouraging hospitals, physicians and other providers to work together, bundling payments saves Medicare money and improves the coordination of care. The American Medical Association responded to the announcement on Thursday, applauding CMS for the initiative and encouraging them to offer additional payment models.

GRAVES: REMEMBER SMALL BUSINESS IN EMPLOYER MANDATE RULES. Chairman of the House Small Business Committee, Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo., addressed an extensive letter to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner today, encouraging him to remember the concerns of small business owners when considering regulations on the employer mandate. He argues that small business owners face too many requirements, primarily because the definitions of “full-employee,” “affordable coverage” and “minimum value” are too complicated and lead to regulatory uncertainty. The letter also includes testimonials from small businesses that describe the employer mandate as a burden. Read more

JUST 11 STATES HAVE ACTED ON ACA'S HEALTH INSURANCE REFORMS. According to research from Georgetown University, just 11 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws or issued regulations to implement the health insurance market reforms that will take effect next year under the Affordable Care Act. States that have not acted, the research shows, could have a harder time enforcing the reforms or ensuring their consumers are fully protected under the law. Unless state-level regulators have the authority to enforce federal law, the report said, they may have trouble forcing insurance companies to comply with rules like the ban on denying health insurance based on preexisting conditions or the limits on out-of-pocket costs. Read more

NEW RULES ON SNACKS IN SCHOOLS. American schools will soon be subject to new government rules concerning the kinds of snacks sold to students, including foods like potato chips and candy bars that aren’t a part of school lunches. The rules, which are part of the first major overhaul on school food in more than 30 years, were originally scheduled to be announced in late 2011. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told Reuters, however, they will come out early this year. Read more

FOSTER'S LAST DAY AS CHIEF ACTUARY OF MEDICARE. Richard S. Foster, who has served as chief actuary of the Medicare program for the last 18 years, will retire today. "Mr. Foster, 63, a career civil servant known for his fierce independence, has been an influential voice on Medicare, Medicaid and the new health care law," The New York Times wrote. As one of the loudest voices projecting rapid growth in federal health care spending, Foster conflicted with Presidents Obama and George W. Bush on their efforts to address the program's spending. Read more


(YOU DON’T NEED TO KNOW. Start with a chartered Amtrak train. Then mix in weekday bloody marys, a candy spread, hamburgers, bankers, business leaders, and members of Congress. That’s the annual New Jersey Chamber of Commerce “schmooze cruise.” On Thursday, 40 New Jersey state Legislators, nine congressional members, and one former governor glad-handed with New Jersey’s leading corporate executives through 14 train cars from Newark to Washington. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie skipped the ride, but gave a keynote address once the train rolled into D.C. last night. Read more)


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