A National Journal story headlined “Darrell Issa Subpoenas Top Obama Political Aide” caught my eye over the weekend. It seems that House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa wants to hear this week from David Simas, director of the White House Office of Political Strategy and Outreach. In a letter to White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, Issa expressed “concerns about the illegal use of taxpayer funds to support congressional campaigns during the 2014 elections.”
It’s hardly surprising that relentless Obama critic Issa is seeking to open yet another avenue to investigate””or torture, depending upon one’s perspective””the Obama administration (though this tiny office in the White House probably would have to grow a thousandfold to even begin to be a rounding error in the federal budget).
But this issue does pose an interesting question about how the White House””and by this I mean the Executive Mansion under the direction of Presidents Carter, Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Clinton, George W. Bush, and now Obama””have all managed to have an explicitly labeled Office of Political Affairs. I know of no city hall, state Capitol, and U.S. House or Senate office that expressly labels a taxpayer-funded staff an “Office of Political Affairs.” As an aside, in the State Department and the foreign-policy world, “political affairs” has a meaning that has nothing to do with electoral or campaign politics.
Since Issa and his staff are curious about this beast, they might want to consult a 112-page report of the U.S. Office of Special Counsel from January 2011 titled “Investigation of Political Activities by White House and Federal Agency Officials During the 2006 Midterm Elections,” which found, horror of horrors, that the White House Office of Political Affairs under Bush was engaged in politics. The report even has a short history of the practice, dating back to the naming of an “assistant to the president for political affairs and personnel” in the Carter White House, with an Office of Political Affairs given a specific line item in the White House budget in 1980.
Generally speaking, the White House political office has traditionally served as the political eyes and ears for the president’s operation””essentially a liaison to his party’s national committee, House and Senate campaign committees, and the Democratic or Republican Governors Association””and is engaged in tracking races for the White House. Also involved in the process is the Office of Intergovernmental Relations, which tends to work more directly with mayors and governors. When a president travels, it has generally been the political office that prepares trip books (background) on the relevant political figures, and researches minefields that the president might encounter on the trip.
As I recall, it was Tim Kraft who was the first to hold an explicitly political function in the Carter White House. The operation became substantially larger during the Reagan administration and later. The Reagan-era political shop did a masterful job of bringing potential Senate and even House candidates into the Oval Office for a recruitment pitch from the president, and later shot miles of video of Reagan walking down a portico with candidates for use in their campaign commercials.
From the Reagan administration on, there has been a veritable Who’s Who of American Politics that has served as either directors or deputy directors of the White House political office. This list includes Lee Atwater, Haley Barbour, Mitch Daniels, Frank Donatelli, Bill Lacy, Lynn Nofzinger, and Ed Rollins in the Reagan White House years alone. David Carney and Ron Kaufman served during the George H.W. Bush administration; Doug Sosnik in the Clinton White House; and Ken Mehlman, Matt Schlapp, and Sara Taylor Fagen in the George W. Bush White House. Patrick Gaspard served during Obama’s first term.
On one level, you can consider it little more than truth in packaging. There have been White House staff members performing political chores for as long as there have been White House staffs in existence; labeling them as such is simply calling a spade a spade. However, when you explicitly label an office “political affairs” or have a “political director,” you are basically acknowledging that performing political chores on the taxpayers’ dime is, at least in this case, OK””even if their counterparts in House, Senate, and gubernatorial offices have to maintain what is little more than a charade that they themselves aren’t participating in the same practice.
Democrats were appalled to find out that during George W. Bush’s second term, the White House political operation was providing input on which U.S. attorneys should or should not be reappointed. This is the kind of thing that can happen when open politicking is effectively green-lighted by such a designation.
Whether there should or should not be a White House political office is for someone else to decide, but Issa’s letter reminds me a bit of Captain Louis Renault in Casablanca crying, “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!”
What We're Following See More »
Before we get to the specifics of this exposé about escorts working the Iowa and New Hampshire primary crowds, let’s get three things out of the way: 1.) It’s from Cosmopolitan; 2.) most of the women quoted use fake (if colorful) names; and 3.) again, it’s from Cosmopolitan. That said, here’s what we learned:
- Business was booming: one escort who says she typically gets two inquiries a weekend got 15 requests in the pre-primary weekend.
- Their primary season clientele is a bit older than normal—”40s through mid-60s, compared with mostly twentysomething regulars” and “they’ve clearly done this before.”
- They seemed more nervous than other clients, because “the stakes are higher when you’re working for a possible future president” but “all practiced impeccable manners.”
- One escort “typically enjoy[s] the company of Democrats more, just because I feel like our views line up a lot more.”
No matter where you stand on mandating companies to include a backdoor in encryption technologies, it doesn’t make sense to allow that decision to be made on a state level. “The problem with state-level legislation of this nature is that it manages to be both wildly impractical and entirely unenforceable,” writes Brian Barrett at Wired. There is a solution to this problem. “California Congressman Ted Lieu has introduced the ‘Ensuring National Constitutional Rights for Your Private Telecommunications Act of 2016,’ which we’ll call ENCRYPT. It’s a short, straightforward bill with a simple aim: to preempt states from attempting to implement their own anti-encryption policies at a state level.”
Much has been made of David Brooks’s recent New York Times column, in which confesses to missing already the civility and humanity of Barack Obama, compared to who might take his place. In NewYorker.com, Jeffrey Frank reminds us how critical such attributes are to foreign policy. “It’s hard to imagine Kennedy so casually referring to the leader of Russia as a gangster or a thug. For that matter, it’s hard to imagine any president comparing the Russian leader to Hitler [as] Hillary Clinton did at a private fund-raiser. … Kennedy, who always worried that miscalculation could lead to war, paid close attention to the language of diplomacy.”
The New Covenant. The Third Way. The Democratic Leadership Council style. Call it what you will, but whatever centrist triangulation Bill Clinton embraced in 1992, Hillary Clinton wants no part of it in 2016. Writing for Bloomberg, Sasha Issenberg and Margaret Talev explore how Hillary’s campaign has “diverged pointedly” from what made Bill so successful: “For Hillary to survive, Clintonism had to die.” Bill’s positions in 1992—from capital punishment to free trade—“represented a carefully calibrated diversion from the liberal orthodoxy of the previous decade.” But in New Hampshire, Hillary “worked to juggle nostalgia for past Clinton primary campaigns in the state with the fact that the Bill of 1992 or the Hillary of 2008 would likely be a marginal figure within today’s Democratic politics.”
At first, “it was pleasant” to see Trevor Noah “smiling away and deeply dimpling in the Stewart seat, the seat that had lately grown gray hairs,” writes The Atlantic‘s James Parker in assessing the new host of the once-indispensable Daily Show. But where Jon Stewart was a heavyweight, Noah is “a very able lightweight, [who] needs time too. But he won’t get any. As a culture, we’re not about to nurture this talent, to give it room to grow. Our patience was exhausted long ago, by some other guy. We’re going to pass judgment and move on. There’s a reason Simon Cowell is so rich. Impress us today or get thee hence. So it comes to this: It’s now or never, Trevor.”