First Thoughts: Three retirements, three seats now in play

Three House retirements, three seats now in play… Does Latham’s retirement have an impact on Boehner remaining speaker after 2014?... On 2016 and the Latham/Wolf seats… On Obama’s meeting yesterday with tech executives… Senate to hold final vote on budget deal later this afternoon (and it’s expected to pass)… Obama to meet with a group of mothers at 2:05 pm ET to encourage obtaining health-care coverage… Could Jerry Brown run in 2016?… Our Top 10 political stories of 2013… And our list could have gone to 11.

U.S. Representative Frank Wolf (R-VA) speaks with Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) (obscured) during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, January 18, 2011. REUTERS/Hyungwon Kang

*** Three retirements, three seats now in play: It’s not every day that three members of Congress announce they won’t be seeking election next year. And it’s also not every day when all three retirements put seats in play for the opposing political party. But that’s exactly what happened yesterday, when Reps. Tom Latham (R-IA), Jim Matheson (D-UT), and Frank Wolf (R-VA) all said they wouldn’t be running in 2014. The Latham and Wolf retirements certainly open the door for Democrats: Obama won Latham’s district both in 2008 (52%-46%) and in 2012 (51%-47%), and he won Wolf’s district in ’08 (51%-48%) and narrowly lost it last year (50%-49%). Meanwhile, Matheson’s retirement gives the GOP a slam-dunk pickup opportunity: Matheson barely beat GOP opponent Mia Love in 2012, and Romney won the district, 68%-30%. Remember when we said that the December holiday season would probably bring us several retirements? Well, there’s a good chance we’re not done. Oh, and one final thing about yesterday’s retirement: All three are from the relative center -- or as close to the center as one can get in today’s polarized Congress. That’s NOT a good sign if you are of the mindset that the Congress needs more moderates, not fewer ones, in order to get things done.

*** Latham’s impact on Boehner? Here’s one overlooked development over the past year: It’s highly unlikely that House Speaker Boehner gets chased out of his job. He has a tighter grip over his speakership than at any other time. But now two of Boehner’s closest friends in Congress -- Latham and Sen. Saxby Chambliss -- are retiring after 2014. If Boehner decides not to be speaker in 2015, no one is going to know until next November (there would be no incentive for him to announce until then). But if that does happen -- and we stress the word “IF” -- we will be able to look back on Tuesday’s news and see a big clue.

*** On 2016 and the Latham/Wolf seats: There’s an additional point to make about Latham: Don’t be surprised if some Republicans in the crowded GOP Senate field in Iowa decide to run for Latham’s House seat. (That’s something national Republicans will be relieved about if only because it’ll mean a better chance that the GOP avoids Iowa’s odd convention runoff rule if no candidate gets over 35% in the primary.) As for the Democrats who could run, we’re hearing some big names -- former Gov. Chet Culver as well as Christie Vilsack are both taking a look. And there’s a 2016 angle to the Latham and Wolf seats: Since both are competitive and are in swing states, the results come Nov. 2014 will give us a good idea about the strength of the two parties heading into the next presidential contest. These are swing seats in swing states; it doesn’t get any better than that for political handicappers.

*** The nine retirements (so far) for 2014: Per NBC’s Frank Thorp, here are the nine retirements so far in the 113th Congress (i.e., those who aren’t running for re-election): Spencer Bachus (R-AL), Michele Bachmann (R-MN), John Campbell (R-CA), Howard Coble (R-NC), Tim Griffin (R-AR), Tom Latham (R-IA), Jim Matheson (D-UT), Jon Runyan (R-NJ), and Frank Wolf (R-VA). This list does NOT count folks who have resigned or died in office.

*** On Obama’s meeting with the tech executives: As the president decides how to reform the NSA in an attempt to restore some trust with a public that is growing increasingly skeptical of government surveillance, America's leading technology companies, including familiar names like Apple, Facebook and Google, met yesterday at the White House to air their concerns directly to the president. Their primary beef: too much forced secrecy by the government when it comes to how and why a technology finds itself forced to turn over someone's email communications to the government. From our reporting, the discussion was cordial and productive. And there was also this: Obama admitted that this issue -- balancing privacy with security -- has been his greatest intellectual challenge as president, and that he is struggling to find this balance. As for the big asks by the tech companies, they want a stricter subpoena standard (perhaps something closer to the standards for search warrants); they’d like the ability to publicly disclose what they do give to the government; and they want some public clarity if simply to erase the notion that they are in cahoots with the U.S. government. Because one thing many of the CEOs brought up to the president was that the NSA leaks have hurt their bottom line when it comes to international business.

*** Final passage of budget deal to take place this afternoon: The final Senate vote on the bipartisan budget deal is expected to take place later this afternoon, per NBC’s Kasie Hunt. And it’s expected to pass.

*** Moms and the health-care law: At 2:05 pm ET, President Obama and the first lady hold a health-care event with a group of mothers. According to the White House, they “will discuss the critical role that moms are playing in helping their families and communities access quality, affordable health care by encouraging their adult children, family members and peers to sign up for coverage.” Yesterday, the administration announced that Microsoft executive Kurt DelBene will replace Jeffrey Zients to oversee HealthCare.Gov. Delbene’s wife is Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-WA).

*** Jerry Brown and 2016: In 2016 news, don’t miss this L.A. Times piece on California Gov. Jerry Brown. “Now, some are pushing Brown to consider another try for the White House, even if it means taking on Hillary Rodham Clinton, the prohibitive, if still undeclared, Democratic favorite. ‘I think Jerry is precisely what America needs,” said Rose Ann DeMoro, the leader of a national nurses union and a strong political ally of Brown. “He has the courage of his convictions, which we haven’t seen in a very long while.’” More: “The famously Delphic governor often leaves people guessing about his motivation and intentions, which leaves plenty of leeway ahead of 2016. Absent a clear-cut statement of disinterest from Brown — who sought the White House in 1976, 1980 and 1992 — some see familiar signs of a presidential-candidate-in-waiting.” And also don’t miss this Quinnipiac poll finding on Vice President Joe Biden: Just 29% of Iowans said he would make a good president (versus 53% who said that about Hillary Clinton and 46% who said that about Chris Christie. That’s not a good poll for Biden. 

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