First Thoughts: Christie takes on Rand Paul

Christie takes on Rand Paul on national security… No unified GOP strategy in the upcoming budget/debt ceiling debate… Rubio tries to get his conservative mojo back… Negative stories touching Clinton World begin to surface… Paul Ryan talks immigration… Would Democrats accept a Dream Act-like compromise?... And other nuggets from our NBC/WSJ poll.

*** Christie takes on Rand Paul: Just a day after a band of House libertarian Republicans -- joining forces with civil-libertarian Democrats -- nearly passed an amendment to defund the NSA’s data-gathering program, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie fired back. “This strain of libertarianism that’s going through parties right now and making big headlines I think is a very dangerous thought,” Mr. Christie said yesterday on a panel with other GOP governors in Aspen, CO, per the New York Times’ Martin. Asked if he were referring to Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), Christie answered, “You can name any number of people and he’s one of them,” he said. “These esoteric, intellectual debates — I want them to come to New Jersey and sit across from the widows and the orphans and have that conversation. And they won’t, because that’s a much tougher conversation to have.” Christie added, “The next attack that comes, that kills thousands of Americans as a result, people are going to be looking back on the people having this intellectual debate and wondering whether they put. …” -- and then cut himself off.

*** Why Christie’s comments are noteworthy: Christie’s remarks are striking for three reasons. First, they reflect the traditional GOP playbook since World War II when it comes to national security politics: Never let the opposition appear tougher (on terrorism, communism) than you are. Yet the ascendancy of Rand Paul in the Republican Party -- remember Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio joining Paul’s filibuster on drones? -- raises the possibility that the traditional GOP playbook wouldn’t be operable in 2016, especially if the Democratic nominee is Hillary Clinton. Second, Christie spreading his hawk’s wings allows him to go to the right on national security at a time when he’s perceived as too moderate on other issues (cozying up to Obama, supporting some gun control). And third, some of Christie’s top advisers and aides worked for Rudy Giuliani in 2008, so this is familiar terrain for them. Bottom line: We saw this anti-Paul hit from Rep. Peter King (R-NY) last week as he made the rounds talking about 2016. And now it’s coming from someone MUCH more recognizable in the Republican Party. 

*** No unified GOP strategy in the upcoming budget/debt ceiling debate: Speaking of playbooks, we now know what the Obama/Democratic one will be in the looming fall battle over the budget and the debt ceiling -- look like the side that doesn’t want to damage the slowly-but-surely growing economy. A new TV ad from Obama’s Organizing for Action (which will air on national cable) features Obama speaking from Wednesday. “Thanks to the grit, resilience, and determination of the American people, we have been able to clear away the rubble from the financial crisis. We have started to lay the foundation for stronger, more durable economic growth." By comparison, Republicans look to be all over the place. Some are vowing to shut down the government if Obamacare is funded, while others oppose such a move. Some are threatening another showdown over the debt ceiling, while others think that would be a mistake. And here’s something else to consider: 2014 already looks very positive for Republicans: It’s going to be VERY difficult for Democrats to take back the House, and the GOP has a doable (though still narrow) path to take back the Senate. But could a government shutdown or protracted battle over the debt ceiling upend that 2014 apple cart?

*** Rubio tries to get his conservative mojo back: One of the Republicans who is advocating a possible government shutdown if Obamacare isn’t defunded is Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL). “Mr. President, it's not that Washington has taken its eye off the ball; it's that you refuse to see Obamacare's failings,” he says in a new web video his office produced after the president visited Jacksonville, FL yesterday. “Several of my colleagues and I have made it clear that we won't fund Obamacare as part of the short-term spending bill that's going to be considered in Congress in September.” One reason why Rubio might be making this challenge? He’s trying to get his conservative mojo back after his support and authorship of the Senate’s “Gang of 8” immigration bill. Indeed, our new NBC/WSJ poll shows a decline in his numbers, especially among key conservative groups. Here are the numbers that show the noticeable -- though not irreparable -- hit he’s taken:

Overall fav/unfav:

Feb. 2013: 24%-17%

April 2013: 28%-16%

July 2013: 23%-20%


Feb. 2013: 47%-7%

April 2013: 49%-6%

July 2013: 42%-11%


Feb. 2013: 41%-7%

April 2013: 45%-6%

July 2013: 35%-13%

Tea Party voters:

Feb. 2013: 52%-8%

April 2013: N/A

July 2013: 47%-15%

*** Negative stories touching Clinton World begin to surface: As the political world follows one Huma Abedin story (about her husband and his lewd sexting behavior), another Huma story catches our eye. The Daily Beast’s Josh Rogin: “Huma Abedin … is facing an ongoing Senate investigation into the consulting fees she earned while also working as a State Department employee for then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.” More: “In June, 2012, Abedin changed her employment status at the State Department from being a full time employee with the title of deputy chief of staff to being a ‘special government employee,’ a type of contractor that allowed her to take on private clients in addition to her government job that included Hillary Clinton’s post-State Department transition team, the William J. Clinton Foundation, and Teneo Holdings, a firm run by Clinton confidante Doug Band.” When you combine this story with the recent news that a DHS nominee is facing an investigation involving a company run by Hillary Clinton’s brother, Tony Rodham, we’ve got to ask: What would these stories look like in 2015? Fair or not, Clinton World always seems to attract these kinds of stories. 

*** Paul Ryan talks immigration: House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) sat down for an interview with NBC’s Frank Thorp. Here were some of Ryan’s comments on immigration. “I do see a path forward. One of the roles I say is being an honest broker and helping our party to achieve a consensus so that we can act on it. We're going to go with a piecemeal, step-by-step approach. We don't think legislating a big mess of 1000 page bills is the way to go. And so what we intend to do is bring different bills to the floor and deal with them in stages. Border security, interior security, legal immigration reform, making sure we don't just leave it to the winds and at the discretion of the administration which quite frankly we just don't trust.” More from Ryan: “But making sure we actually get border enforcement, we actually get interior enforcement and with respect to the undocumented immigrant, I think there's a way of fixing this problem without rewarding them for cutting in line.” 

*** Would Democrats accept a DREAM Act compromise? Staying with the topic of immigration, political analyst Charlie Cook wonders if Democrats would accept a DREAM Act-like compromise, if a comprehensive immigration bill is unattainable from the GOP-led House. “In the end, the critical question may be whether Democrats would go along in conference with a ‘Dream Lite’ measure—a Republican baby step toward immigration reform, representing all that is possible in the realities of internal GOP politics today—or whether they would prefer to use immigration and, specifically, failure to pass a comprehensive reform law as a club to beat Republicans in 2014 and 2016. My bet is, Democrats will demand far more than House Republicans can possibly deliver.” But here’s the potential complication here: Due to Obama’s executive action from last year, the Dream Act already pretty much exists for young undocumented immigrants. What would Obama and the Democrats be getting here? 

*** Othernoteworthy nuggets from our NBC/WSJ poll: In this polarized nation, this consensus is striking -- 81% of Democrats, 84% of independents, and 86% of Republicans disapprove of Congress… A plurality of Tea Party Republicans (48%) believe their party is too quick to give into President Obama, while a combined 67% of non-Tea Party Republicans believe that the GOP is either too inflexible (36%) or striking the right balance (31%)… George W. Bush’s fav/unfav rating has improved to 38% positive/39% negative; the last time Bush had a net-positive rating was back in July 2005 (47% positive, 43% negative)… And get this: Despite Edward Snowden being in the news for almost two months, 31% of respondents don’t know who he is, and another 24% have neutral feelings about him.

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