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Parents, Dog Owners and Congress
Snow came late to Washington but Congress’s spring recess —er, “district work period” — is well under way, with members returning home for Easter and Passover, for school vacations, and to complaints from constituents.
During this season of renewal, there is perhaps more hope than there has been for a while on Capitol Hill. It’s not that there’s anything like an agreement on the big issues of the day, the budget or guns or immigration. A debt-ceiling fight still looms.
But last week’s “vote-a-rama” with its 5 a.m. passage of a Senate version of a spending plan to continue funding the government signals some return to normalcy. The promise of committees doing the quotidian work of crafting a budget, instead of the drama-laden exploits of the White House and congressional leadership, augurs well — or at least, better than the last two years.
As parents and dog owners know, having some rules, some structure helps a lot.
OBAMA: ‘TIME HAS COME’ TO MOVE ON IMMIGRATION REFORM. President Obama, using a naturalization ceremony Monday as a backdrop, urged Congress to get moving on immigration reform, The Hill reports. The president said he expects debate to begin on a bill next month. “We've known for years that our immigration system is broken,” he said from the East Room, “And after avoiding the problem for years, the time has come to fix it once and for all. The time has come for comprehensive, sensible immigration reform.” Read more
CIA FACILITATING ARMS SHIPMENTS TO SYRIA REBELS. The CIA is helping Turkey and Arab nations supply arms to Syrian rebels as part of a program that has expanded significantly since its inception early last year, The New York Times reports. U.S. officials say the CIA’s role remains mostly advisory. The agency helps Arab governments buy arms on the global market that are then flown into Turkey by Jordanian, Saudi, and Qatari aircraft. From there, Turkey transports them over land to neighboring Syria. Publicly, the administration has said it is supporting the opposition with “nonlethal aid” only. Read more
- The Syrian government says it has sent blood and soil samples to U.N. investigators in order to determine whether an alleged attack last week was the result of rebels using chemical weapons, CNN reports. Rebels accuse Syria of using chemical weapons in the same battle.
REPORT: TIM JOHNSON TO RETIRE FROM SENATE. Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., will not seek reelection in 2014, Reuters reports. Johnson has spent 28 years in Congress, but is reportedly still suffering the effects of a 2006 brain hemorrhage, and “many political experts expect Johnson to announce his retirement,” The Argus Leader reports. Johnson is poised to make an announcement on his future Tuesday. Former Republican Gov. Mike Rounds has already announced his intention to vie for the seat, and Rep. Kristi Noem is another possibility. On the Democratic side, former Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin and Johnson’s son, U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson, are possible contenders. Read more
BACHMANN SUBJECT OF ETHICS PROBE. The Office of Congressional Ethics is investigating Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., over alleged campaign finance violations related to her failed 2012 presidential bid, former staffers tell The Daily Beast. Investigators are reportedly focused on the campaign’s national political director and its Iowa chairman, centering on the possibility of illegal money transfers. Bachmann’s campaign counsel, William McGinley of Patton Boggs, confirmed the investigation, saying “There are no allegations that the congresswoman engaged in any wrongdoing.... We are constructively engaged with the OCE and are confident that at the end of their Review the OCE Board will conclude that Congresswoman Bachmann did not do anything inappropriate.” Read more
PUBLIC SUPPORTS DRONE STRIKES AGAINST TERRORISTS. Nearly two-thirds of Americans — 65 percent — support lethal drone strokes launched against terrorists on foreign soil, according to a Gallup poll released today. Support for launching strikes in the U.S. is much lower, at 25 percent, and support for attacking U.S. citizens who are suspected terrorists on American soil is a mere 13 percent. Read more
- Slate notes that support for drone strikes against American citizens on foreign soil has dropped more than 20 percentage points since last year, while opposition has jumped 20 points.
5 STAFFERS TO KNOW ON THE SMALL BUSINESS COMMITTEES. You know the political stump line “Small businesses are the backbone of America” has some truth to it when Congress devotes entire committees to them. The Small Business committees in the House and Senate ostensibly have jurisdiction over just one agency, the Small Business Administration, but they crisscross virtually every policy area in Washington. Here are the staff members you should know on the committees on both sides of the Capitol. Read more
KERRY TALKS TO KARZAI IN UNANNOUNCED AFGHAN VISIT. Secretary of State John Kerry made an unannounced trip to Afghanistan on Monday, where he held talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Reuters reports. “Kerry and Karzai will discuss a host of issues including Afghan reconciliation, the transfer of security responsibility to Afghan forces and Afghanistan's elections,” an unnamed official told reporters. The Karzai government is trying to open formal talks with the Taliban opposition. After the meeting, Kerry declared that he Karzai are “on the same page” when it comes to dealing with the Taliban. Read more
- The U.S. transferred responsibility for prisoners over to the Afghanistan government, The New York Times reports, despite questions over releases.
OBAMA DESIGNATES NEW NATIONAL MONUMENTS. Using his authority under the Antiquities Act, the president designated five new national monuments in a signing ceremony with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in the Oval Office on Monday. The new moments are the Río Grande del Norte National Monument in New Mexico; First State National Monument in Delaware; Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument in Maryland; Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument in Ohio; and San Juan Islands National Monument in Washington State. Read more
STEPHEN COLBERT TO INTERVIEW BILL CLINTON NEXT MONTH. Comedian Stephen Colbert will be interviewing former President Bill Clinton early next month and will also host the closing session of the Clinton Global Initiative, TPM reports. The closing session is scheduled for April 6, the interview will air during the week of April 8. Read more
MANY POSSIBLE OUTCOMES FOR PROP 8 RULING. The Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments on Tuesday in a suit that aims to overturn California’s Proposition 8, which bans gay marriage. Most observers don’t expect the Supreme Court to rule strongly against gay marriage, but The Los Angeles Times reports that there is a wide array of possible outcomes. The plaintiffs are seeking to make gay marriage legal everywhere, but the justices could rule in such a way that only endorses gay marriage in California, or even only for the plaintiffs. The New York Times has a handy thumbnail background on the case. Chief Justice John Roberts’ cousin, who is lesbian, will reportedly attend the arguments. Read more
“In February of freshman year, I decided to write a letter to my parents. I'd tried to come out to them in person over winter break but hadn't been able to. So I found a cubicle in Bass Library one day and went to work. Once I had something I was satisfied with, I overnighted it to my parents and awaited a response.” — Sen. Rob Portman's son, Will, writing in the Yale Daily News about telling his parents that he is gay.
NAVY SEAL PEP TALKS AND COCKTAIL COMPETITIONS: HOW MSNBC BECAME THE VOICE OF THE LEFT. For MSNBC President Phil Griffin, “news is war,” writes Rebecca Dana in The New Republic. Griffin has brought in a Navy SEAL to speak to his top executives about managing fear during combat, taken them to New York City’s Sept. 11 museum to learn about the pressure of public scrutiny from the museum’s president, and even tasked them with creating specialty cocktails to represent MSNBC’s character. Since its inception in 1996, MSNBC has, mostly unsuccessfully, tried to be everything — a better version of CNN, opinionated and patriotic, and even right-wing. In 2005, the network hit on its successful left-wing punditry formula. Dana charts the development of the network Bill Clinton has called “our version of Fox News.” Read more
PLAY OF THE DAY
OBAMA IN ISRAEL. On HBO, Real Time host Bill Maher spent a lot of his monologue on Obama’s trip to the Middle East. The famously nonreligious Maher took some easy shots at the Holy Land and the state of Florida on his show. On NBC, Jay Leno discovered a new survey about Congress, while Jimmy Fallon found out some interesting things said about Julius Genachowski’s departure from the FCC. Watch it here
SAME-SEX MARRIAGE BEFORE SCOTUS. Here are a few blogs to keep you ahead of the news on Tuesday’s big same-sex marriage hearing before the Supreme Court:
- SCOTUSBlog — Bloomberg Law sponsors this blog, which is consistently cited as having more comprehensive and accessible Supreme Court coverage than any other media outlet.
- Balkinization — Jack M. Balkin, an American legal scholar and the Knight Professor of Constitutional Law and the First Amendment at Yale Law School, curates this blog, which features posts by many prominent law professors.
- Volokh Conspiracy — Eugene Volokh, a law professor at the UCLA School of Law with a right-libertarian bent, publishes this blog, which has informed analysis, but a casual feel.
- WSJ Law Blog — The Wall Street Journal’s seven-person legal reporting team contributes to this blog.
- The BLT — The Legal Times and The National Law Journal combine to manage this blog, which features a deep roster of contributors.
TODAY’S PHOTO GALLERY
SNOW-COVERED CHERRY BLOSSOMS IN WASHINGTON. An unusually late spring snow came to the nation’s capital Monday, part of a system that already hit the midwest. The Washington Post has some reader-submitted photos, including damp, thick snow weighing down budding cherry blossoms. See it here.