First Thoughts: Welcome to Bizarro Washington

Welcome to Bizarro Washington, where the House is acting civil and bipartisan and where the Senate is uncivil and partisan… Not clear (right now) how Ryan-Murray gets its 60 votes in the Senate… Bottom line: The Senate is a mess… The big winner from yesterday’s Ryan-Murray House vote (John Boehner)… The big losers (Heritage Action and Club for Growth)… NBC/WSJ poll: Support for gun control declines after Newtown tragedy… On Huckabee and the evangelical community in 2016… Dem Super PAC hits Cassidy in Louisiana…. And “Meet the Press” will have Paul Ryan and Patty Murray.


*** Welcome to Bizarro Washington: Accused of being the least productive Congress in modern history and viewed by a majority of Americans of being “one of the worst” Congresses ever, the House of Representatives did something pretty surprising yesterday: It passed the bipartisan Ryan-Murray budget deal. And it did so overwhelmingly. Per NBC’s Frank Thorp, the vote was 332-94, with 62 House Republicans and 32 House Democrats voting against the legislation. Hooray for passing a budget! Hooray for bipartisanship! But here’s the funny thing: Senate Republicans are now vowing to filibuster the budget legislation, and it’s not exactly clear how you get to 60 votes. (Remember, while Democrats changed the filibuster rules for nominees, that doesn’t apply to legislation.) Indeed, what we’ve done is enter Bizarro Washington, where the House is bipartisan and civil, and where the Senate is uncivil and partisan. Think about it: In addition to Senate GOP threats to filibuster the Ryan-Murray deal, Republican senators indiscriminately blocked President Obama’s nominees; Democrats retaliated by changing the filibuster rules; and Republicans further retaliated by gumming up the system, forcing the Senate to hold votes in the wee hours of the night.

*** Not clear how Ryan-Murray gets 60 votes: As we mentioned above, it’s unclear right now how the Senate gets to 60 votes to clear the Ryan-Murray budget deal. NBC’s Kasie Hunt reports that Sens. Bob Corker (R-TN), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and John Cornyn (R-TX) are all “no’s”; Sens. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Pat Toomey (R-PA), John Thune (R-SD), and Richard Shelby (R-AL) are “lean no’s”; and Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME), John McCain (R-AZ), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), and Rob Portman (R-OH) are undecided. Make no mistake: We’re pretty confident it’s going to pass; the last thing Senate Republican leaders want to do is scuttle Paul Ryan’s budget deal -- and more importantly OWN that scuttling (like the GOP owned the shutdown). But right now, we’re just unsure who will be the 5-10 Republicans who will reluctantly be asked to vote for it. NBC’s Hunt adds that the cloture vote could take place as early as Monday, and the reason for that delay is the ponderous back-and-forth that is taking place over nominations right now. 

*** The Senate is a mess right now: We have one additional point to make about the U.S. Senate: The institution is a mess right now. In the summer, you had a band of Republicans -- McCain, Graham, Corker, Ayotte -- cutting deals to end some of the gridlock to prove the institution could work. But that is over. It’s worth remembering that more than two-thirds of current senators were elected after 2000, when the political polarization in Washington truly began with the Florida recount. The Ted Kennedys, Dick Lugars, Robert Byrds are all gone. And that’s a big reason for the current dysfunction in the greatest deliberative body in the world. These new senators were all elected in this polarized climate, they all succeeded during this age of political warfare, and therefore they only know that one way to win politically and that translates into the style of legislating and governing we’ve now all grown accustomed to. The leadership on both sides seems more intent on making points than keeping the tradition of the Senate being the “small g” governor of Washington. And right now, this body certainly does NOT look like the great “cooling saucer” of the government.

*** The big winner and big losers from yesterday’s House vote on Ryan-Murray: As far as yesterday’s House vote on Ryan-Murray, it was a BIG WIN for Speaker John Boehner. Getting 169 House GOP votes when groups like Heritage Action and Club for Growth were actively lobbying against it is quite a feat these days. (Of course, that may be more about Paul Ryan than Boehner.) Consequently, the vote was a BIG LOSS for those same conservative groups. Does that embolden House Republican members to buck them in the future? But bigger picture, there’s little doubt that the whole exercise hurt the GOP, exposing once again all the ideological fissures inside the Republican Party. Ryan-Murray is a do-no-harm deal, with neither party in a strong political position to extract concessions from the opposition; it was a bare-minimum deal to keep the government open over the next two years and allow both parties to not inflict further damage upon themselves. But right now, it appears to be doing harm inside the Republican Party. As we wrote yesterday, Democrats were the ones divided a month ago (over the health-care website, those canceled health plans). But now it’s the GOP that’s once again divided. If you have political whiplash, it’s totally understandable.

*** NBC/WSJ poll: Support for gun control declines a year after Newtown: Tomorrow is the one-year anniversary of the tragic Newtown, CT shootings. And numbers from our new NBC/WSJ poll show that support for gun-control measures has dropped to its lowest level since the shootings. According to the poll, 52% say they want stricter laws covering the sale of firearms. By comparison, 38% think gun laws should remain the same, and another 8% say they should be less strict. But that support is down from earlier in the year. In Jan. 2013, a month after the shootings, 56% favored stricter gun laws in the NBC/WSJ poll. In February, support increased to 61%. And in April -- as the U.S. Senate was debating gun-control measures that ultimately failed to advance -- 55% said they wanted stricter gun laws. It’s not surprising that the country has reverted to its traditionally passive “pro-gun-control” position after the emotions have faded. But it’s still striking given all the pro-gun-control TV ad spending in the past year. (Per Elizabeth Wilner, gun-control advocates outspent gun-rights advocates on broadcast and national cable, $14.1 million to $1.9 million.) And then there’s this: Our NBC/WSJ poll shows that the NRA is much more popular (39%-31% fav/unfav) than New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is (19%-24%). Remember, nationally, in 2013, Bloomberg essentially became one of the faces of the gun control movement. But here’s the biggest reason why gun-control legislation didn’t pass Congress this year: The NBC/WSJ finds that 76% of Democrats back stricter gun laws, versus just 28% of Republicans who do. When an issue is that divisive between the two parties, it usually means there’s no chance for any legislative compromise or advancement.

*** On Huckabee and the evangelical community: Turning to 2016 news, former Arkansas Gov. (and 2008 candidate) Mike Huckabee is suddenly on folks’ radar screens. The Washington Examiner: “Mike Huckabee … ended his daily radio show heard on 200 stations across the nation, the first obvious sign that he is considering another presidential bid in what is shaping up to be a jammed 2016 GOP primary.” The New York Times also spoke with Huckabee. We’re unsure if he’s really serious; the C.W. on Huckabee has always been that he’s more interested in making money than sitting in the Oval Office (and that his 2008 presidential run was really about speaking fees). That said, don’t ignore the fact that there isn’t a true evangelical in the current discussion about Rand Paul, Scott Walker, Chris Christie, or Ted Cruz. And we won’t be surprised if there is a GOP candidate in 2016 who appeals primarily to the evangelical community who gains some traction. Remember, both Huckabee (in ’08) and Rick Santorum (in ’12) caught fire for a while -- out of nowhere -- due to support from this community. Don’t sleep on Huckabee. But also don’t sleep on the evangelical community. They have never felt more under siege than they do now as the country moves in a different direction when it comes to various social issues.

*** Dem Super PAC hits Cassidy in Louisiana: In 2014 news, a lot was made (and deservedly so) on Mary Landrieu’s very defensive TV ad distancing herself somewhat from President Obama on the health-care law. But if you think the GOP is going to win in a cakewalk in Louisiana, just check out this new TV ad from the Dem group Senate Majority PAC hitting GOP front-runner Rep. Bill Cassidy (R). In fact, we’ve been surprised at how aggressive Democrats have been at going after Cassidy; much more aggressive than they have been in Arkansas, North Carolina, or Alaska…

*** Ryan, Murray to appear on “Meet”: Lastly, NBC’s David Gregory will interview Paul Ryan and Patty Murray for “Meet the Press” this Sunday.

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