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Could Benghazi Ignite a Partisan War?
State Department officials testifying today before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee have not yet delivered any major revelations about last year’s deadly attacks in Benghazi. But the riveting account of what happened that night could rekindle partisan fires and endanger President Obama’s legislative agenda.
It is the first time the public has heard from someone who was on the ground in Libya during the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks on the diplomatic mission, and Gregory Hicks, the deputy chief of mission in Libya, delivered a compelling account, including his frustrations with the government’s response.
Hicks’s testimony threatens to reopen a new front on Benghazi. The last battle cost President Obama his first pick for secretary of State. This time, it could derail immigration reform. GOP "Gang of Eight" members John McCain and Lindsey Graham have been two of the biggest critics of the administration's response to Benghazi, a role that could poison the well with Democrats.
Almost all the big issues facing the president and lawmakers–guns, immigration, the debt ceiling–are tough lifts even with bipartisan cooperation. A partisan war fueled by Benghazi could make them next to impossible.
BENGHAZI HEARING OFFERS RIVETING TESTIMONY. A House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on last year’s attacks on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, featured testimony from the former deputy chief of mission in Libya, Gregory Hicks, who contended that U.S. military forces were stymied in their efforts to travel to Benghazi from Tripoli to render aid, National Journal’s Billy House reports. Asked by Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., about U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice's initial contention that the attacks were prompted by an anti-Islamic YouTube video, Hicks testified, “I was stunned, my jaw dropped, and I was embarrassed.” Hicks also testified that he was told by the State Department not to meet with congressional investigators regarding the attack. Read more
- National Journal’s Kristin Roberts writes that the Obama administration’s “stonewalling” on Benghazi could come at a heavy price. Read more
HOW MARK SANFORD WON. The former South Carolina governor is now returning to Congress, completing a remarkable comeback, and prompting The Washington Post to explore exactly how he pulled it off. In short: He ran in a Republican district, he was the better candidate, he outworked Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch, and he had an outstanding campaign team. During a victory lap on the morning TV shows, Sanford predicted he’ll have “plenty of friends in Washington, D.C.” Read more
- National Journal’s Beth Reinhard has some advice for Anthony Weiner if he’s encouraged by Sanford’s success: Stand down.
REPORT: BACHMANN NEGOTIATING SETTLEMENT OVER CAMPAIGN LIST. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., is negotiating a settlement in a lawsuit alleging that members of her presidential campaign team stole an e-mail list from Barb Heki, a staffer in Bachmann’s Iowa campaign office, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports. Bachmann reportedly flew to Des Moines on Monday to meet with Heki’s attorneys. The suit alleges that Iowa state Sen. Kent Sorenson, who served as Bachmann’s state campaign chair, took the list from Heki’s computer; it also accuses Bachmann of defamation. Read more
McCONNELL: LABOR NOMINEE PEREZ IS A ‘CRUSADING IDEOLOGUE.’ Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., denounced Labor secretary nominee Thomas Perez on the Senate floor today, “foreshadowing a filibuster” of his nomination, TPM reports. “He is a committed ideologue who appears willing, quite frankly, to say or do anything to achieve his ideological ends," McConnell said. "His willingness, time and again, to bend or ignore the law and to misstate the facts in order to advance his far-left ideology lead me and others to conclude that he'd continue to do so if he were confirmed to another, and much more consequential, position of public trust." Read more
- Perez’s confirmation vote in a Senate committee, which was scheduled for today, has been delayed again–this time until May 16.
U.S. TO COMMIT ANOTHER $100 MILLION IN AID TO SYRIA. The United States is set to provide $100 million in new humanitarian aid to Syrians, the Associated Press reports. The funds, which will be announced Thursday by Secretary of State John Kerry, are designated solely for humanitarian purposes such as aid to refugees and may not be used to aid rebels. The funds will be distributed to U.N. agencies that assist refugees, 1.4 million of whom are in neighboring states such as Jordan. The new commitment brings to $510 million the amount of humanitarian aid provided by the United States to Syrians over the last two years. Read more
FREDDIE MAC POSTS $4.6 BILLION QUARTERLY PROFIT. The Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp., known as Freddie Mac, posted the second-highest quarterly profits in its history in the first quarter of 2013, taking in $4.6 billion, Reuters reports. The corporation paid $5.8 billion to the federal government in the first quarter of this year, and is scheduled to make a $7 billion payment in the second quarter. Freddie Mac CEO Donald Layton said on a conference call: "We expect that the housing recovery will continue to bolster our financial performance." Read more
TERRY McAULIFFE’S WOMAN PROBLEM. It’s hard to believe, but the Democrat running against Republican Ken Cuccinelli for governor of Virginia might have a woman problem, National Journal’s Jill Lawrence reports. He is in the spotlight right now for ditching his wife, Dorothy, while she was in labor, to dash to a party for a Washington Post reporter. And there’s a second anecdote involving a newborn and a ditched wife. President Obama won female voters in Virginia by 9 percentage points last year. But at the moment, a Washington Post poll shows Virginia women splitting evenly between McAuliffe and Cuccinelli. Read more
OBAMA TO TEXAS. On Thursday, President Obama will travel to Austin, Texas, where he will visit a technical high school and meet with entrepreneurs in an attempt to remind Americans he’s still concerned about the economy. He’ll also make a visit to a tech company and speak with some blue-collar workers. Read more
HOUSE TO PROBE BOSTON ATTACK. A House Homeland Security Committee hearing on Thursday will examine the Boston bombings and their aftermath, with Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis and former Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., among the witnesses. Read more
HOUSE TO VOTE ON OVERTIME-PAY BILL. There will be action in the House Thursday on a bill, dubbed “family-friendly” by Republicans, that would allow employers to offer compensation time instead of overtime pay. But Democrats call it anything but family-friendly or appealing to women who want to spend more time with their children, because it could provide an incentive for businesses to pressure workers to choose comp time.
“I can make partnerships across the aisle and get things done.... I can work with Rand Paul. I can work with Ted Cruz. I love libertarians.” – Mayor Cory Booker of Newark, N.J., who is considering a Senate bid. (Daily Beast)
‘NO ONE WANTS TO DEAL WITH IT’: BEHIND THE ADMINISTRATION’S DEBATE OVER SYRIA. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad “appears to be testing the tactical value of his chemical arsenal. But he’s testing the political limits too,” Gary Samore, who until February was President Obama’s chief adviser on weapons of mass destruction, told Dexter Filkins of The New Yorker. Filkins takes readers inside the White House debate over Syria as al-Assad continues to bait the West with increasing use of force, seeing how far he can push before crossing Obama’s vague “red line.” Assad’s chemical arsenal is dispersed across Syria, mostly in populated areas, meaning an effective military strike would have to be both widespread and meticulous. At a recent State Department meeting, a person who attended told Filkins, “No one wanted to say that Assad had crossed the line, because no one wants to deal with it.” Read more
PLAY OF THE DAY
GOLFING WITH OBAMA. President Obama played golf in a foursome with two senators over the weekend and whenever Obama plays a high-profile round, it’s fodder for late-night humor. Jay Leno used some video manipulation to highlight the animosity between Obama and his playing partners, while Jimmy Fallon pumped up the president. In non-golf jokes, Conan O’Brien took a look at recent comments from Bill Clinton about his wife’s presidential ambitions. And, like clockwork, Fallon also got in some shots at Vice President Joe Biden after the administration met with South Korean President Park Geun-hye earlier in the week. Watch it here
WHAT IF WE’RE ALL WRONG ABOUT OBAMA’S TECH ADVANTAGE? That’s what two Harvard researchers are suggesting. In a new head-to-head comparison of voter turnout in battleground states, what many believe gave President Obama an edge—his data-driven efforts at getting out the vote—might not have mattered much after all, National Journal’s Brian Fung reports. Read more
WHY IMMIGRATION LAW MAY BE TOUGH ON POOR. Don’t expect Congress to dive too deeply into the politically unforgiving topic of how the United States treats poor people as it begins debating immigration legislation. But that question is always lurking beneath the surface, National Journal’s Fawn Johnson reports. The undocumented immigrants who would be given legal status under the Senate’s bill tend to be poor, work in low-paying jobs, and have less education than the average American. What happens to them will say a lot about how much of a safety net policymakers think they should have, and whether they will be treated differently than other Americans. Read more