After going out in a blaze of glory -- or a blaze of infamy, take your pick -- Congress has departed on its five-week August recess. And the political action now turns to the campaign trail, with primary contests taking place in six states over the next six days. You read that right: six states in six days.
- On Tuesday, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, and Washington hold their primaries, and the race to watch will be in Kansas, where incumbent Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) faces a Tea Party challenge from Milton Wolf. Most analysts believe Roberts will win, but Wolf has been hammering him for residing more in Northern Virginia than Kansas. And Roberts’ camp has highlighted gruesome X-ray pictures that Wolf, a doctor, posted to his Facebook page.
- On Thursday -- a rare day for elections -- Tennessee holds its primaries, and we’ll be watching to see if Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) holds on in the primary challenge he’s facing. (The good news for Alexander: Eight Republicans are taking him on, and they could divide any anti-Alexander vote out there.)
- And then on Saturday, Hawaii has primaries featuring the top Democratic intra-party fights this cycle. Gov. Neil Abercrombie is getting a primary from state Sen. David Ige, and a recent poll showed the incumbent trailing. And appointed Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) faces a challenge from sitting Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI), and the same poll showed Schatz ahead. Go figure: Abercrombie is in trouble, but the man he appointed maybe isn’t. But another poll has Schatz trailing Hanabusa.
A potentially rough week to be an incumbent
Abercrombie and Schatz aren’t the only incumbents who might go down this week; so, too, could a couple of GOP congressmen. So far this election cycle, just two incumbents -- House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and 91-year-old Ralph Hall -- have gone down to defeat. But that number could double after Thursday. In Michigan, Rep. Kerry Bentivolio (R-MI), who accidentally won in 2012 after Thaddeus McCotter resigned from Congress, finds himself trailing a GOP challenger by 22 points, according to a poll last month. And in Tennessee, scandal-plagued Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-TN) is getting a challenge from state Sen. Jim Tracy, but could DesJarlais still hold on? The Hill’s Jessica Taylor: “The GOP physician looked like he would be booted from office in late 2012 after revelations that he had pushed his ex-wife to have two abortions and carried on affairs with patients, one of whom he urged to terminate a pregnancy. The socially conservative congressman drew a strong primary opponent this year in state Sen. Jim Tracy (R), and many in the GOP privately say they are rooting for the challenger, because it would rid the party of another member of its ‘scandal caucus.’ But despite DesJarlais being seen as one of the cycle’s most endangered incumbents, more than a half-dozen strategists with deep Tennessee ties say the contest is far closer than expected ahead of the Aug. 7 primary.” So to sum up this week, three Senate incumbents are receiving credible challenges (Roberts, Alexander, Schatz); one incumbent governor could lose his primary (Abercrombie); and an additional two House Republicans are more than vulnerable. There is a sense that 2014 could be an anti-INCUMBENT year more than an anti-DEM or anti-GOP year. If it is, then this week should go poorly for incumbents.
House GOP follows King and Bachmann on immigration -- not Boehner, Cantor, or that RNC report
If you’re a Republican, here’s the new good news you can take from Friday’s final day of votes before its August recess: The GOP-led House passed a border-relief measure, while the Senate didn’t. (Of course, that House passage only came after the original legislation didn’t have enough votes, and the chamber had to spend an additional day in Washington.) Republicans also can take comfort in the fact that President Obama NEVER reconciled his previous support for changing that 2008 law, but then his later silence on the matter (which had a big impact on the lack of Dem support to get a compromise supplemental done). But here’s the bad news: To pass that border-relief legislation, the House approved an accompanying bill that prohibits President Obama's ability to defer action on immigrants who came to the United States illegally as children (ie, the “DREAMers”). Why is that bad news for Republicans? Because it directly contradicts what their leaders wanted to accomplish on immigration -- either a year ago or as recently as last May. Here’s a sampling of what Republican leaders said they needed to do/say on immigration:
- RNC post-election autopsy: If Latinos think we want to deport them, we’ll never win their votes: “If Hispanic Americans perceive that a GOP nominee or candidate does not want them in the United States (i.e. self-deportation), they will not pay attention to our next sentence. It does not matter what we say about education, jobs or the economy; if Hispanics think we do not want them here, they will close their ears to our policies... We are not a policy committee, but among the steps Republicans take in the Hispanic community and beyond, we must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform. If we do not, our Party’s appeal will continue to shrink to its core constituencies only. We also believe thatcomprehensive immigration reform is consistent with Republican economic policies that promote job growth and opportunity for all." (March 18, 2013)
- Cantor: It’s time to give legal status and citizenship to DREAMers: “One of the great founding principles of our country was that children would not be punished for the mistakes of their parents. It is time to provide an opportunity for legal residence and citizenship for those who were brought to this country as children and who know no other home." (Feb. 5, 2013)
- Paul Ryan: We need comprehensive immigration reform, because we need folks to come out of the shadows: "We have to invite people to come out of the shadows," he said. "We have to have a system that people have confidence in. It's a system whereby people who have been contributing here can right their record, can get themselves right with the law. And it's a system that still respects the rule of law where we're not encouraging them to cut in front of the others." Ryan added, "We do not want to have a society where we have different classes of people where they cannot reach their American dream by being a full citizen." (April 22, 2013)
- Boehner: I believe “vast majority” of House Republican want to deal with immigration reform: “There are some members of our party who just do not want to deal with this. It’s no secret,” Boehner said. “I do believe the vast majority of our members do want to deal with this, they want to deal with it openly, honestly and fairly.” (May 12, 2014)
Bottom line: House Republicans on Friday ended up following Reps. Steve King (R-IA) and Michele Bachmann (R-MN), not the advice or ideas that the RNC, Cantor, and even Boehner had talked about months ago. Let us quote that RNC post-election one more time: “If Hispanic Americans perceive that a GOP nominee or candidate does not want them in the United States (i.e. self-deportation), they will not pay attention to our next sentence… if Hispanics think we do not want them here, they will close their ears to our policies.”
House Republicans still talking impeachment
Speaking of Rep. Steve King, his comments on Sunday played right into the White House’s hands -- and undercut Speaker Boehner’s claim that impeachment talk is simply a Democratic fundraising scam. On Fox yesterday, King once again raised the specter of impeachment if Obama makes another executive action on immigration. “I think Congress has to sit down and have a serious look at the rest of this Constitution and that includes that ‘I’ word that we don't want to say. And I only say that now on this program, because I want to encourage the president, please don't put America into a constitutional crisis.” And during the congressional debate on Friday, Bachmann talked about putting a “handcuff” on Obama, per NBC’s Frank Thorp. "What Harry Reid has the opportunity to do is come back and join us, we'll be here any time, any day, anywhere, anyhow," Bachmann said, "We'll join him here in August, September, whenever. And he needs to put the other handcuff on this lawless president's hands, so that we can strain this president from granting amnesty."
Not clear cut how immigration will play in the fall
A final point to make on the entire immigration debate: Just about EVERYONE in Washington is unsure how it’s going to play in the fall. In Colorado -- which has a sizable Latino population -- we saw Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CO) vote against the anti-DACA legislation. But in Arkansas (where Latinos are almost non-existent), it could play out differently, with Dems wanting to look tougher on border issues. In a presidential, we know which party would get punished for immigration stagnation. But in a midterm, it’s another story and varies state by state.
“I’m so Fancy (Farm)… You already know”
The past weekend brought us Fancy Farm -- the political festival in Kentucky that political reporter Sam Youngman has labeled “Hee Haw” meets “The Gong Show.” And the takeaway from Fancy Farm is that the McConnell-vs.-Grimes Senate race is still very close. NBC’s Perry Bacon: “In the most closely-watched U.S. Senate race in the nation this year, neither Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell nor his Democratic challenger, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, can pull away. As the two prepare to take the stage on Saturday at Fancy Farm, the iconic annual church picnic where Kentucky’s politicians often speak over loud boos from their opponents, polls show the two effectively tied, with Grimes within a few points of a huge upset that would likely ensure Democrats kept control of the U.S. Senate. ‘You can feel the uncertainty on both sides,’ said Colmon Elridge, who is a top aide to Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat.”
Paper calls on Sen. Walsh to stop campaigning after plagiarism scandal
And in Montana, the Billings Gazette is calling on appointed Sen. John Walsh (D-MT) to end campaigning in his Senate race after being accused of plagiarism. “Having repeatedly said that he wants to do the honorable thing, Walsh should stop campaigning and do his utmost to serve Montanans well in the remainder of his brief Senate appointment. That is the honorable course."
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