The National Journal’s latest congressional vote analysis is out, and U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, is the No. 1 conservative in the Senate according to votes cast in 2009. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Muskogee, came in at No. 4. Inhofe graded out at 95.8 percent, meaning he voted more conservative than 95.8 percent of his colleagues. Coburn was at 93 percent. On the House side, three Republicans scored higher than 80 percent in the conservative rankings — Rep. Mary Fallin (87), Rep. Tom Cole (84.2) and Rep. Frank Lucas (83.7). GOP Congressman John Sullivan didn’t participate in enough of the votes analyzed by the Journal to be ranked. Interestingly, the state delegation’s lone Democrat, Rep. Dan Boren, scored 58.2 percent as a conservative and 41.8 percent as a liberal, which is pretty much the definition of a House moderate. The Journal based its ratings on 99 Senate votes and 92 House votes on economic, social and foreign policy issues.
The word “unctuous” often refers to someone who displays exaggerated or insincere earnestness. It also can mean the primary quality of oil: slippery. With that in mind it was interesting to see veteran Democratic operative Bob Shrum using that adjective in an online commentary to take a whack at U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander after Alexander’s comments at Thursday’s health care summit. Shrum is among those urging President Barack Obama to damn the torpedoes (polls consistently showing Americans don’t like Obamacare) and go full speed ahead with the $950 billion plan. Of course, neither Obama nor Shrum will be on the ballot in November, and the guess here is a lot of Democrats whose jobs are on the line aren’t so eager to test the public’s wrath. Back to “unctuous.” Shrum calling Alexander — as mild-mannered and genuine as anyone in the Senate — unctuous has a definite black pot-talking-to-the-black kettle quality to it, a capacity that no doubt has helped Shrum in his career as a political handler. In other words (and risking being accused of unctuousness), this looks like a case of takes one to know one.
A lot of the hub-bub surrounding Thursday’s health care summit between President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats and Republicans is focused on whether Democrats eventually will use “reconciliation” to get legislation through the Senate. That’s a procedure for making revenues and spending conform to the budget and isn’t subject to a minority filibuster. Theoretically, you could get the latest House-Senate Democratic compromise back through the Senate with just a simple majority vote.
Sort of under the radar is quite a bit of evidence that the House of Representatives is where Democrats will have their problems. The House originally passed its health care bill in November with just five votes to spare (220-215), and Democratic and Republican sources say Speaker Nancy Pelosi doesn’t have that margin anymore. Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., tells The Hill newspaper 15 to 20 Democrats don’t like the current compromise for various reasons. Stupak’s chief complaint is the bill’s abortion-funding language, which is more lenient than what was in the original House version. He and a number of fellow anti-abortion Democrats appear unlikely to vote yes this time around.
Obviously, a swing of 15 or more Democratic votes in the House is a monumental problem for Obama and the majority’s leadership. The vote in November snagged one GOP vote, and no one expects any of the other Republicans to change their minds. As things unfold, smart money says to keep an eye on the House.
Here’s the kind of stuff that sets teachers of American history to grinding their teeth. President Obama’s former deputy national campaign director, Steve Hildebrand, is asked on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” whether he’s disappointed in the president’s first year, and he says he’s not. Then comes the teeth-grinding part: “This is a guy who faced the most difficult circumstances in the history of the presidency, going into that office …” (Insert audio of a phonograph needle scratching across a vinyl record.)
Whoa! “The most difficult circumstances in the history of the presidency?” Things were tough in January 2009, but tougher than Abraham Lincoln in March 1861, with the nation coming apart and headed for civil war? Tougher than Franklin Roosevelt in March 1933, with the country already mired in the Great Depression?
Probably just a slip of the tongue by Hildebrand, or maybe he wasn’t a big history guy in college. Or maybe, too, it’s the kind of political messaging people like him get paid to put out there, lowering the bar for a president who’s first year didn’t send off too many bottle rockets — the first step in a revisionist look at BHO as, dare we say, a historical figure?
It’s an unfortunate fact that sometimes an individual’s historic imprint is defined in a snapshot. Such is the case with former Secretary of State Alexander Haig, also a four-star general, who passed away early Saturday in Baltimore. Haig, 85, with an illustrious military career and service as top adviser to three presidents, never lived down an episode of maybe five to 10 minutes, after the 1981 attempt on President Ronald Reagan’s life, when he announced to television cameras that, “As of now, I am in control here in the White House, pending the return of the vice president.” Even the last phrase of the sentence — signaling Haig’s desire to reassure Americans the White House would continue functioning until Vice President George H.W. Bush arrived — is mostly forgotten. The impression that Haig was a usurper of power stuck. Later he wrote in his book, “Caveat,” that he was “guilty of a poor choice of words and optimistic if I had imagined I would be forgiven the imprecision out of respect for the tragedy of the occasion.” Haig, who ran unsuccessfully for president in 1988, was a patriot and public servant whose innumerable contributions are footnote to that moment of imprecision, which indeed is a shame.
At the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington this week, Darth Vader was a hero. Not that Darth Vader; former Vice President Dick Cheney. Cheney’s unfavorables may be high nationally, but they didn’t care anything about that at CPAC. Mainly, because Cheney has been a one-man conservative wrecking crew against the Obama administration’s national security and anti-terror policies. He was greeted with chants of “Four More Years!” To which Cheney replied, “Oh, knock it off!” The former Veep said the adulation was almost enough to make him run for office, “but I won’t.” Later, Cheney served up the red meat, predicting Barack Obama will be a one-term president. That’s how you play to a crowd.
A new national poll shows more than half of Americans don’t think President Barack Obama deserves reelection in 2012. The CNN/Opinion Dynamics survey found 52 percent opposed to the president’s reelection, while 44 percent favor him — certainly not good numbers for the White House.
Former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean thinks Obama’s problem is he’s been too soft, that he blew it by not using the Democratic majority in Congress to ram through health care and other legislation. Appearing on Joe Scarborough’s MSNBC morning show, Dean said Obama should’ve stuffed bipartisan opposition (Republicans and some moderate Democrats) to health care by using “reconciliation.” That’s a procedure that allows passage of legislation by a simple majority in the Senate, skirting the filibuster rule used by Republicans and Democrats alike to force broad consensus. In other words, the heck with Tea Partiers and independents who’re sour on Obamacare; hold their noses and make ‘em take the medicine.
Of course, calling on Obama to “get tough” (translated: get more liberal) is pretty easy if you’re from Vermont, which these days is just a little to the right of the Castros’ Cuba. That’s not gonna fly in Arkansas, Nevada, Indiana, Ohio, Colorado, Pennsylvania and other states where there will be major Senate races this year. Just ask Democratic incumbent Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas. It’s a center-right country, and Obama’s problems will get worse if he listens to Dean and others urging him to shoot the political rapids by leaning even more to the left than he did throughout 2009.
President Barack Obama heads west this week to campaign for a pair of incumbent Democratic senators — Majority Leader Harry Reid in Nevada and Michael Bennet in Colorado. But it’s even money on whether Obama’s appearance will help or hurt them. Reid is polling in the low 40s and loses hypothetical matchups with just about any Republican opponent. Bennet, appointed to his seat when Ken Salazar was named Obama’s Interior secretary, also is trailing. Bringing in Obama is a roll of the dice. “It’s definitely a gamble,” Democratic strategist Liz Chadderdon tells The Washington Times. “A handshake that raises $1 million now could cost them the election later.” Indeed, The Times reports another embattled Dem, Sen. Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas, is trying to save her job by creating daylight between herself and liberal Democrats, if not the president himself. Lincoln’s campaign Web site highlights a recent exchange in which she challenged Obama to push back against liberal extremes in the party. No word on whether Obama will do Little Rock later this year, but don’t hold your breath. One conservative pundit already has dubbed the campaigner-in-chief Barack ” Millstone” Obama.
News that U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., won’t run for a third term is a pretty good punch to the gut of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Bayh reportedly had $13 million in the bank for a reelection run and at least had his nose above water in polling matchups with likely Republican rivals. But he’s out, tired of Washington gridlock. His seat goes from leaning Democratic to a toss-up or even leaning Republican, given Indiana’s relative conservatism.
Slowly the Democrats’ filibuster-proof Senate edifice is crumbling. Republican Scott Brown wins Ted Kennedy’s seat in Massachusetts, and the 60-vote working majority (with two independents) is down to 59. North Dakota’s Byron Dorgan also is quitting, and Republicans probably will win there. 58. Now Bayh, 57. Joe Biden’s Delaware seat (technically, being kept warm by Ted Kaufman) looks like a GOP pickup in November. 56. Republicans have shots at Democratic seats in Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Nevada and Pennsylvania. 55, 54, 53, 52, 51.
The GOP still would have to pick up a couple more while defending 18 seats to gain Senate control. It’s a long shot for sure — though not as long as it was before Bayh’s announcement.
U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy’s decision not to run for re-election this fall means Congress probably will be without a Kennedy for the first time in nearly five decades. The 42-year-old Rhode Island Democrat is the son of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy and is in his eighth term in the House. A friend told the Boston Globe Kennedy has been thinking about quitting for months, and his father’s death last August factored into the decision. No doubt, politics has as well. The national climate for Democrats is generally chilly, and Republican Scott Brown’s upset win last month in neighboring Massachusetts, claiming Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat, had to be personally stunning for the son. A poll released last week in Rhode Island showed him with a 62 percent unfavorable rating statewide, with just 35 percent of respondents in his district saying they would vote to re-elect. Reason enough for Patrick Kennedy to begin a new chapter in his life.