You may have missed it Friday, but the Republican National Committee replaced Chairman Michael Steele with Reince Priebus, the former chairman of the Wisconsin Republican Party. National GOPers are banking on Priebus to erase the party’s $22 million debt while simultaneously revving up the fundraising machinery for the 2012 election cycle — when political history’s most prodigious fund raiser, President Obama, will be leading the charge for Democrats. Some estimate Republicans will need to raise $400 million the next two years if they hope to retake the Senate and defeat Obama. That’s a lot of cabbage. Steele fell out of favor primarily because of fundraising problems, the national committee’s spending priorities and uncertain leadership with the rise of the Tea Party movement. One of Priebus’ challenges will be managing cooperation between the ideological cousins while restoring confidence in the GOP among some of its biggest donors. Priebus comes to the job having managed a Republican resurgence in the Badger State that toppled incumbent Democrat Sen. Russ Feingold and reclaimed the governor’s mansion last fall.
Interesting thought from U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., concerning the State of the Union speech on Jan. 25. Instead of having Republicans sit on one side of the House chamber and Democrats on the other as they traditionally do, why not mix everyone up in a spirit of bipartisanship? Udall says he hopes such a seating arrangement will “begin to rekindle the common spark that brought us here from 50 different states and widely diverging backgrounds to serve the public good.” Sure, and they could start each day in Congress by singing “Kumbaya.” OK, that’s a little harsh. Udall’s suggestion certainly couldn’t hurt anything. Maybe if South Carolina Republican Joe Wilson were seated among a bunch of Democrats he wouldn’t blurt out “You lie!” while Obama is speaking, like he did during a 2009 address. Maybe a different seating chart really would foster greater cooperation. Maybe … nah!
Is it really news when a big-name politician takes a prat fall — on stairs, boarding planes, etc.? Think about it: What is the “news” in Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stumbling as she boarded her plane in Yemen the other day? That she’s clumsy, perhaps clumsier than the average person? Please. London’s Daily Mail newspaper had a full report on Hillary’s trip (har!), with several photographs — and, of course, video. Yep, Hillary ended up on her knees alright. So what? Most people can’t fathom how many flights the secretary takes, and most of the time she boards them using the old-fashioned mobile staircase instead of the passenger-friendly jet ways most people use — for the obligatory photo of her smiling and waving. Or in Yemen, stumbling. Hillary will have to be more careful. Back in the 1970s, President Ford had a run of missteps, caught on cameras, that fed into a media-driven perception that Ford was a klutz. No matter that Ford, a former University of Michigan football player, actually was well-coordinated. A few more false steps from Hillary and she’ll be peppered with cracks like the one from someone in Texas, logged into the Mail’s comments section: “She probably tripped over her ego.” Hilarious.
At the risk of sounding too clever, how about this observation in the case of former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom Delay of Texas, who was sentenced to three years in prison on money laundering and conspiracy convictions this week: It looks like “The Hammer” now knows what it’s like to be the nail.
OK, stop the groaning. Delay is a classic how-the-mighty-have-fallen story. At his apex he was one of the most powerful men in Washington, leading the Republicans in the House and raising millions of dollars for GOP candidates with a style that earned him that descriptive nickname.
Delay claims he was railroaded in Travis County, one of the most Democratic counties in otherwise mostly Republican Texas. But a jury was convinced he maneuvered to illegally channel corporate donations to state House candidates in 2002. “Everything I did was covered by accountants and lawyers telling me what I had to do to stay within the law,” said Delay, who served in Congress from 1984 to 2006. “I can’t be remorseful for something I don’t think I did.” Remorseful or not, Delay appears headed for another house, the Big House. He is appealing.
Timing is everything, even in death. The children of Elizabeth Edwards will pay no estate tax on the wealth their mother left them after succumbing to cancer Dec. 7, and they have Republicans to thank. The GOP was mostly responsible for getting the federal estate or death tax phased out as part of the Bush tax-cut package. For 2010 the death tax rate was zero. Because of when Edwards passed away, the $1.5 million estate she left Cate, Emma Claire and Jack won’t be subject to the death tax. According to the Raleigh News & Observer, Edwards likely has other assets in a trust for her children. No mention of estranged husband John in her will, to no one’s surprise — except maybe his.
Item: U.S. Rep. Dan Boren, D-Muskogee, was one of 19 Democrats who didn’t vote for Nancy Pelosi in Wednesday’s contest for House speaker. The vote itself was academic; John Boehner is speaker because Republicans outnumber Democrats in the new House 242-193. More significant is the strain within Democratic ranks, illustrated by the largest repudiation of a party’s candidate for speaker in nearly 90 years. As Chris Casteel reports in The Oklahoman, Boren’s vote was no surprise. He had told numerous town hall meetings last year he wouldn’t support Pelosi in the speaker’s vote, and he didn’t. “I kept my word,” he said, voting instead for North Carolina Democrat Heath Shuler.
A couple of points. As mentioned, there must be a number of unhappy campers in the Democratic cloakroom because Pelosi is still leading their parade — even more than were willing to oppose her publicly. (On the flip side, it’s amazing that a guy like Virginia Democrat Gerry Connolly, who eked out an 800-vote victory in November over an opponent he beat by 12 percentage points in 2008, still voted for Pelosi.)
As for Boren and others who defied her, wow! The old adage says you don’t take on the king (or queen, as it were) unless you’re sure you can knock ‘em off the throne. Pelosi’s still there. It’ll be interesting to see how they handle those awkward situations in the House elevators. Seriously, keep an eye on Boren and the others to see if Pelosi follows through with another old saying: Don’t get mad, get even.
As tempting as it is to bemoan the Navy’s loss of an obviously capable officer — you don’t rise to the command of an aircraft carrier by being anything less than stellar — Capt. Owen Honors’ rapid defrocking over some reportedly coarse and sexually explicit videos in which he starred was necessary. Shipboard life is notoriously salty, and lots of USS Enterprise crew members probably laughed themselves silly to see Honors, the ship’s executive officer when the videos were made in 2006 and 2007, doing the things he did. Honors surely did it for the laughs. But now he’s a laughingstock, unceremoniously yanked from command of the Enterprise, which he’d held since May. Military leadership is a combination of intelligence, decisive analytical skills and charisma. But it’s also about judgment, and Capt. Honors’ dishonorable comportment showed he’s lacking in that department — which is why he’s contemplating a career out of uniform now.
A postscript to President Obama’s phone call to Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, reportedly thanking Lurie for signing controversial quarterback Michael Vick. The call really torqued conservative pundit Tucker Carlson (also an animal lover), who said Vick should’ve been executed for torturing and killing dogs.
Now comes a report from Tacoma, Wash., that the father of a U.S. soldier killed in Afghanistan was told Obama doesn’t regularly phone individual families of war dead. Ouch. Here’s how it looks: The commander-in-chief can chit-chat with an NFL owner about resuscitating Michael Vick’s football career but can’t find the time to talk to the grieving parents of a dead soldier. “That burns,” said Patrick Collins, father of U.S. Army Sgt. Sean Collins, who was laid to rest recently. “Any soldier that gets killed in action, you’d think the president would be calling someone in the family,” Collins told the Tacoma News Tribune. “There’s no politics in it. His predecessor did it.” Double ouch.
Unfortunately, the newspaper reports, the Collins family suffered another slight when a sympathy letter arrived from the office of U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash. Good intentions, poor execution: The News Tribune reports the last paragraph of the letter misidentified the fallen soldier.
No walk-back, yet, by Tucker Carlson from his broadcast remark that Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick should have been executed after being convicted of torturing and killing dogs. The editor in chief of The Daily Caller, an online news outlet, Carlson made the comment Tuesday while guest-hosting Sean Hannity’s show on Fox News. “Michael Vick killed dogs, and he did in a heartless and cruel way, and I think personally he should have been executed for that,” Carlson said.
Yeah, that’s strong — too strong! But here’s some context: In addition to his work as a conservative pundit, Carlson is an animal rights defender. Earlier this year he recorded a public service spot for the Washington Animal Rescue League. He was talking about Vick in connection with President Obama’s phone call to Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, reportedly thanking Lurie for signing Vick in 2009 after the player served 21 months in federal prison for his involvement in an illegal dog-fighting ring. Carlson said Obama’s support for “someone who murdered dogs” was “kind of beyond the pale.” He’s got a point about Obama but not about Vick and the death penalty. Tucker Carlson is a thoughtful, interesting commentator, but that one got away from him.
Not too many weeks ago much of the gab in Washington was about Barack Obama’s doomed presidency. His job approval ratings were in a free fall, Democrats got their corn creamed in the mid-term congressional elections and the atmosphere inside the Beltway resembled the scenes in “Gone With The Wind” where everybody’s trying to get out of Atlanta ahead of Sherman’s marauding Yankees.
That was then, this is now: Obama’s the “comeback kid” after Democrat majorities in the lame-duck Congress passed some items on his wish list — just before the dreaded Republicans take over the House and bulk up in the Senate. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” was repealed, the New START arms control treaty was ratified and a new health care package for 9/11 first responders was created. Obama called it proof Democrats and Republicans can work together — under his leadership, of course — and scooted off to Hawaii for a luau. Stories appeared in The Washington Post, New York Times and on Web sites marveling at Obama’s resurgence. Amazing, right? Uh, no.
Lest we forget, Obama also absorbed a tax deal with Republicans that has ‘em rioting over at Moveon.org, and he and his Hill allies retreated on a gargantuan spending bill. DREAM Act legislation creating a citizenship path for illegal aliens who came to the U.S. as children, coveted by Obama, fizzled. As for Obama’s victories, the DADT repeal and New START both had significant Republican support all along. It’s not like Obama rose up and decreed their passage. Besides, as Jennifer Rubin writes on her Washington Post blog, Republicans wouldn’t trade victories on taxes, spending and the DREAM Act for wins on DADT and the treaty — “not in a million years.”
So has Obama got the “mojo” back? Unclear. Passing stuff with the help of a bunch of Democrats who won’t be back next month is hardly an objective test. Let’s see how things go when the 112th Congress comes to town before we start laying it on about comebacks.