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Yes, Perceptions of Washington Are Even Worse Than Last Year

Image: US Capitol Hill

epa03911255 The US Capitol is partly obscured by fog in the morning of the fifteenth day of a partial shutdown of the federal government, in Washington DC, USA, 15 October 2013. A bipartisan group of lawmakers are trying to negotiate an end to the shutdown and raise the nation's debt ceiling before a deadline later this week. EPA/MICHAEL REYNOLDS EPA

Yes, it can get worse, and it has

If you thought perceptions of Washington couldn’t get worse than last year (after the government shutdown, after the HealthCare.Gov snafu), just look at the standing of DC’s major figures and institutions at this halfway mark of 2014. This is a six-month report card time, and it’s failing grades for all of Washington. President Obama’s approval rating stands at 41% in our recent NBC/WSJ poll, his fav/unfav is upside down (at 41%-45%), and a majority of Americans (54%) no longer think he’s able to lead the country and get the job done. Republicans and Congress are in even worse shape. The GOP’s fav/unfav in the NBC/WSJ poll is 29%-45% (versus the Democratic Party’s 38%-40% score). Just 7% of the country has confidence in Congress (compared with 29% for the presidency and 30% for the Supreme Court, per Gallup. And when it comes to congressional productivity, the 113th Congress (2013-2014) has passed just 121 bills into law -- fewer than at this same point in the historically unproductive 112th Congress (140 bills into law). Maybe it doesn’t FEEL worse, because there hasn’t been an epic showdown or confrontation like the government shutdown. But the numbers tell a different story -- it has gotten worse.

“Corporations are people, my friend” -- and with religious beliefs, too?

Today’s big political story will be the Supreme Court’s likely Hobby Lobby decision. Here is how NBC’s Pete Williams has previewed the case: “It’s a question the Supreme Court has never answered: Does a for-profit company have the right to object to a law on religious grounds? ‘This case presents, front and center for the justices to decide, a question that’s been open for a long time: Do companies, not just people and churches, have religious freedom?’” SCOTUSblog’s Tom Goldstein said to Williams. Hobby Lobby “is run by founder David Green of Oklahoma City and five members of his family. ‘We believe wholeheartedly that it is by God’s grace and provision that Hobby Lobby has been successful. Therefore we seek to honor Him in all that we do,’ Green said. All Hobby Lobby stores close on Sundays, for example. To avoid promoting alcohol, the company does not sell shot glasses. Green family members say they believe that providing insurance coverage for two types of morning-after pills and two kinds of intrauterine devices would make them complicit in practicing abortions. They filed a lawsuit claiming that fully complying with the contraceptive mandate in the health care law would violate their religious freedom.” Our take: We expect a BIGGER political backlash on the left than on the right, depending on which way things go. If the court strikes down contraception mandate, it’s worth remembering, contraception hasn’t been a winning issue for the GOP. Also if this case goes Hobby Lobby’s way, expect Democrats to insert this issue into every Senate race in the country; the swing vote this cycle is women and the Democrats believe the reason they are in better shape with women today than four years ago. By the way, the court has ducked the most controversial social policy rulings in the recent past by searching for the minimum or the narrowest path, one way or the other.

Obama to nominate ex-Procter & Gamble CEO for new VA secretary

As NBC’s Kristen Welker and Kelly O’Donnell reported yesterday, President Obama will nominate former Procter & Gamble CEO Bob McDonald as the new VA secretary replacing Eric Shinseki, who resigned his post a month ago. Obama will officially nominate McDonald at 4:30 pm ET. More from Welker: McDonald is a West Point grad, and worked at P&G for 33 years. Our take: This is exactly the kind of resume White House was looking for -- someone with tons of management experience, and someone who is either apolitical or bipartisan. In this case, it appears that McDonald is a Republican. “Records show that Mr. McDonald has made political contributions only to Republicans, giving $5,000 to Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee in 2012, and $11,000 to the Romney Victory Committee,” the New York Times writes. “He has also made several contributions to Speaker John A. Boehner and Senator Rob Portman, both Republicans of Ohio.”

NBC/WSJ/Annenberg: 55% believe Hillary can relate to average Americans

Given all the TV spots, front-page stories, and Sunday show discussions focused on Hillary Clinton’s wealth and her recent “dead broke” comment, these numbers are pretty good for Team Clinton: 55% of Americans say that Hillary Clinton can relate to and understand the problems of average citizens as well as other presidential candidates can, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Annenberg poll. By comparison, 37% of respondents disagree, saying she can’t relate as well as other candidates can. Predictably, these numbers are split along partisan lines: Democrats (by an 86%-10% margin) believe she can relate, and Republicans (by 66%-28%) think she can’t. Among independents, 46% think she can relate and 44% don’t think so. As Dem pollster Peter Hart analyzes, Hillary Clinton remains in very solid shape with the Democratic base, but the indie divide is telling on this relatively low-bar question. Still, the overall result tells a pretty fascinating story: There is Clinton Fatigue inside the Beltway, but maybe less so in the rest of the country, at least for right now. (That also, in retrospect, was the situation during the 1998-99 impeachment fight.) The potential for Clinton Fatigue is a real problem for Democrats, and that’s the reason why RNC Chair Reince Priebus was stressing it on “Meet the Press” yesterday. But right now, it certainly looks like it is more of a DC thing.

The Clintons, Wealth and Politics 2:32

What’s the matter with Kansas -- and Sam Brownback?

Yes, it was just one robo poll that showed Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback trailing his Democratic opponent, state House Minority Leader Paul Davis. But was there something to it? It turns out, there was. After chatting with Democratic and GOP operatives, the consensus is that the race is competitive -- or at least more competitive that many would have thought in ruby-red Kansas. What is going on? Well, the Republican Party is split is in the state. As the Times put it earlier this year: “Single-party control got things done here, but it also ignited an intraparty struggle, as the governor learned last year when some of his allies resisted the higher sales tax rate he requested to balance the state’s books. And while many Kansans remain in Mr. Brownback’s corner, moderate Republicans and Democrats are loudly expressing their anger. With Mr. Brownback facing re-election, voters will be assessing a mixed scorecard of achievement.” It’s also a reminder that governor races are MUCH different than Senate and House contests.

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