Border optics problems for Obama and the GOP
As he travels to Texas today, President Obama has a clear optics problem: He’s in the Lone Star State to raise money at two different fundraisers (in Dallas and Austin), but he won’t be coming to the U.S.-Mexico border to inspect what his administration has called a humanitarian crisis. Indeed, the White House is digging in its heels to NOT bow to pressure to visit the border. “The important thing here is that we've involved the whole of government from the very beginning, that we have multiple agencies of the cabinet engaged in the highest levels, that the president is fully aware and on top of the situation,” White House domestic policy adviser Cecilia Munoz told MSNBC’s Alex Wagner yesterday when asked why Obama wasn’t going to the border. This is not the first time the White House has dug in its heels on an optics-related critique. Their mindset: It makes no difference in the president’s response to the crisis whether he’s physically at the border or not. And yet, it’s one of the parts of the presidency that THIS president has resisted the most: political theater. It’s part of the job, whether he likes it or not. Still, the White House seems sensitive enough to the criticism that it hastily arranged a 5:55 pm ET meeting in Dallas with faith leaders -- and with Texas Gov. Rick Perry -- to discuss the problems at the border. But if Obama has an optics problem, the Republican Party might have a much bigger one if they reject the White House’s request for $3.7 billion to respond to the crisis at the border.
Does the GOP reject the White House’s emergency-spending request for the border?
House Judiciary Committee Chair Bob Goodlatte certainly doesn’t sound like someone who wants to approve the funding. "President Obama created this disaster at our southern border, and now he is asking to use billions of taxpayer dollars without accountability or a plan in place to actually stop the border crisis,” he said in a statement, per NBC’s Frank Thorp. “Most of the money requested in the president's supplemental seems geared towards processing Central Americans than stopping the surge itself.” Heritage Action also is whipping against the border aid. “Conservatives are eager to change laws that are hampering the administration's ability to deal with the surge, but believe our nation's border security can be addressed through the regular appropriations process where priorities can be re-ordered and spending can occur within the established budget caps." Now it’s possible that House GOP leaders might negotiate for a smaller emergency spending bill -- maybe $2.7 billion instead of $3.7 billion. But if Republicans decide to do nothing, it would be a P.R. disaster. For starters, the party already is seen as having “compassion” and Latino problems, and rejecting aid would only underscore those problems (remember, $3 billion is a miniscule amount when it comes to appropriations). In addition, rejecting aid would highlight the GOP’s inability to govern. Passing a small emergency-spending bill is one of the easiest things Congress can do, and Democrats would be able to say: “House Republicans can’t do anything, even in a crisis.”
Should Hillary have delayed her book tour and political re-entry?
One thing is pretty obvious when you look at Hillary Clinton’s fav/unfav scores in our NBC/WSJ poll: Her numbers have come back down to earth since leaving her secretary of state position. In Jan. 2013, her fav/unfav was 56%-25% (+31); in April 2013, it was 56%-29% (+27); in June 2013, it was 49%-31% (+18); in Sept. 2013, it was 51%-31% (+20), in March 2014, it was 44%-34% (+10); in April 2014, it was 48%-32% (+16); and last month after her book tour began, it was 44%-37% (+7). That slight but steady erosion begs the question: If she’s planning a 2016 run, should Clinton have delayed her book tour and political re-entry, given that her numbers would start declining as soon as she was viewed as a more political actor (see the book tour) than as a non-political actor (secretary of state)? On the one hand, that erosion has taken place maybe a bit faster than many had anticipated. On the other hand, with all the early attention on 2016 -- book tour or no book tour -- the numbers were probably going to go down, since the erosion is primarily coming from GOP respondents and right-leaning independents. There’s one other potential plus to the 2014 book tour: She’s answered every question, and has had everyone kick her tires. If you’re going to run, don’t you go ahead and get that out of the way? One thing should be clear to folks who watch presidential politics closely, there doesn’t seem to be a grand strategist in Hillary World (a la Rove with Bush in ‘97 or Axelrod with Obama in ‘05) who is laser-like focused on 2016. Instead, it appears her world is still more focused on protecting and projecting a legacy, not thinking about what’s best for 2016.
The pluses and minuses of the GOP holding its convention in June
And speaking of the early start to the 2016 season, Republicans announced yesterday that they had selected Cleveland as the city to host their ’16 convention. (The Republican National Committee still needs to ratify the pick, and it needs to finalize negotiations with the city, but those are technicalities.) So much of the focus of the pick was on Ohio and its importance to the presidential electoral map. But just as important to the RNC was Cleveland’s flexibility to hold the convention as early as June -- with RNC Chair Reince Priebus’ desire to tap into general-election funds earlier than in 2012. (The thinking: Mitt Romney, after exhausting his primary funds, was at a disadvantage to the Obama campaign’s summer TV-ad onslaught until the late August GOP convention.) But David Plouffe, the chief architect of Obama’s presidential wins, believes that a June convention would be a mistake for the GOP. “As a party, you have two big weapons in a presidential race: the selection of the vice president and the convention. To potentially have those over by July 4th makes no sense,” he told Bloomberg Businessweek’s Josh Green. Indeed, there is always a danger of fighting the last battle -- 2016 isn’t going to be 2012.
The Democrats’ remaining convention options
The RNC’s selection of Cleveland does one other thing: It essentially takes the city off the table for Democrats. Remember, Cleveland had also submitted a bid to the DNC, and if the GOP hadn’t picked the city, Democrats probably would have. Now, Democrats are left with five other bids -- from Birmingham AL; Brooklyn, NY; Columbus, OH; Philadelphia, PA; and Phoenix, AZ. The smart money is on Philly. But the DNC has told us that they probably won’t announce their final pick until the end of this year or early next.
Reid helping Udall and Hagan with legislation on Senate floor
And guess who is sponsoring Senate legislation -- which Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is expediting to the floor -- that would try to override the Supreme Court’s contraception Hobby Lobby decision? None other than Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO), who is up for re-election this fall and is hoping to use contraception against challenger Cory Gardner. Oh, and also guess who is introducing a gun measure to the Bipartisan Sportsmen Act that would make it easier to hunt and fish on federal lands? None other than Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC), who is also vulnerable this fall and from a red state. Harry Reid doesn’t allow many bills to go on the floor these days, but when he does, it’s often to benefit on of his endangered Democratic senators. Here are two examples. Of course, with the Udall bill, this is about forcing a vote that Democrats think they can exploit in quite a few senate races. Though, two Dem senators to watch on this Udall bill, Mark Pryor and Mary Landrieu… neither represents the most pro-choice of states.
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First published July 9 2014, 6:09 AM