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99 Days to Go: How Much Has the Midterm Landscape Changed?

Image: Stickers for voters at a polling place

Stickers wait for voters at a polling place in the Oregon New Years Association, Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013, in Philadelphia. Turnout was reported as light Tuesday across Pennsylvania as voters headed to the polls in an off-year election with few high-profile contests. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke) Matt Rourke / AP

99 days to go

We’ve now reached the point in the midterm cycle where there are fewer than 100 days to go until Election Day -- 99 days, to be exact. And we find ourselves pretty much in the same place where we were when 2014 began, which is actually quite remarkable, considering the environment SHOULD be better for the party out of power. Then again, Democrats have done a good enough job of making Republicans own some of Washington that we are in the current environmental stalemate we are currently in. Still, even if a GOP wave is looking less likely now than six months ago, it doesn’t mean the GOP doesn’t go into these last 99 days with a leg up:

1. Republicans, due to the map and the fact that a president’s party usually suffers during the midterms, have a great shot at picking up seats, and possibly even control of the U.S. Senate.

2. President Obama’s approval rating remains in the low 40s, which isn’t good news for his party; and his job rating is actually in the 30s in the states with the competitive Senate races. But here’s why November’s results could be a bit unpredictable: Congress and congressional Republicans have numbers significantly worse; our recent round of NBC/Marist polls found congressional Republicans with approval ratings around 20%. Voters don’t have amnesia… they’ve voted for change 3 times in the last 4 election cycles.

3. Democrats also maintain a double-digit advantage with female voters, which remains one of the biggest signs why 2014 doesn’t look like 2010. And if Democrats hold off losses in November, it will be due to the gender gap.

4. Perhaps the best way to view the upcoming contests is red vs. blue: Republicans essentially sweeping the red states (AK, AR, LA, MT, NC, SD, WV) wins them control of the Senate. But a real wave doesn’t happen unless they extend their gains into the blue and purple states (CO, IA, MI, NH).

5. There still isn’t a defining issue for these midterms. Is it health care? (That hasn’t been a front-burner issue for months). Foreign policy? (It’s been the dominant story over the past couple of months, but does that motivate midterm voters?) The economy?

6. Americans are fed up with politics and politicians. As our NBC/WSJ poll showed last month, 57% of voters said they wouldn’t want to re-elect their OWN member of Congress. Voters want to punish both parties but fear rewarding one over the other and that’s why this could end up being a weird cycle. Never forget our favorite singing pundit, Buffalo Springfield: “there’s somethin’ happenin’ out here, what it is ain’t exactly clear.” That’s what this cycle feels like.

Looks like we have a VA deal

On Friday, we delivered our rant about Congress: It’s broken, the gridlock is different than past gridlock, and it can’t even do the easy and small stuff anymore. But here is some good news: It LOOKS like House and Senate negotiators have a final deal to reform the VA. “House Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., are planning to outline their agreement on a measure that would overhaul veterans health programs on Monday, aides said Sunday. The two lawmakers have scheduled a news conference for 1:30 p.m. Monday,” Roll Call says. “According to a summary of the agreement obtained by CQ Roll Call, the negotiators agreed to $15 billion in emergency mandatory spending — $10 billion for a new private care option for veterans and another $5 billion for improvements within the VA, like hiring doctors and nurses and upgrading facilities. That’s $5 billion more than Miller offered on Thursday and about $10 billion less than Sanders sought.” If it sticks, such a deal is important to Congress, because it needs to show that it at least got SOMETHING done this summer. It would be a P.R. disaster if Congress goes home for August without finishing VA reform, without responding to the humanitarian crisis at the border, but authorizing a lawsuit against President Obama later this week.

Boehner defends upcoming lawsuit against Obama

Speaking of that lawsuit, House Speaker John Boehner writes this USA Today op-ed defending it: “President Obama has overstepped his constitutional authority — and it is the responsibility of the House of Representatives to defend the Constitution. At the same time, we remain focused on the American people's top priority: jobs and the economy.” More from Boehner: “Congress makes the laws; the president executes them. That is the system the Founders gave us. This is not about executive orders. Every president issues executive orders. Most of them, though, do so within the law.” As we’ve written before, we understand why Boehner has decided to go down this road – he believes it helps placate his conservative/Tea Party wing. But remember, every action has an opposite and equal reaction. If this is a base election, why hand Democrats ANYTHING at all that might energize them, too? The White House seems almost ecstatic about this development, does that strike any fear in Boehner on this decision?

No.3 House Republican doesn’t 100% knock down impeachment talk

Meanwhile, top Republican leaders and strategists insist that the only people talking about impeaching the president -- not simply suing him -- are Democrats and the White House. In fact, senior Obama adviser Dan Pfeiffer suggested that impeaching the president would be on the table if he issues an executive action on immigration (a suggestion that could fire up the Democratic base and spur fundraising). But here’s thing: Not all Republican leaders are 100% knocking down the impeachment talk. Here was new House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) on Fox News yesterday:

WALLACE: But impeachment is off the table?

SCALISE: Well, the White House wants to talk about impeachment, and, ironically, they're going out and trying to fundraise off that, too.

WALLACE: I'm asking you, sir.

SCALISE: Look, the White House will do anything they can to change the topic away from the president's failed agenda -- people paying higher costs for food, for health care, for gas at the pump. The president isn't solving those problems. So, he wants to try to change the subject.

Look, the White House desperately wants this narrative of the GOP possibly impeaching the president. So Scalise is right with his observation. What we don’t get is why he didn’t 100% knock it down. All he had to say was: “I agree with House Speaker John Boehner -- impeachment is off the table.” Why didn’t he say that?

Israel vs. Kerry

The level of trust between Secretary of State John Kerry and Israeli PM Netanyahu seems to be nearing a low. Just check out this piece in Haaretz, which is hardly friendly to the Netanyahu government. “Kerry isn’t anti-Israeli; on the contrary, he's a true friend to Israel. But his conduct in recent days over the Gaza cease-fire raises serious doubts over his judgment and perception of regional events. It's as if he isn't the foreign minister of the world's most powerful nation, but an alien, who just disembarked his spaceship in the Mideast.” This Haaretz piece definitely seemed to channel the feelings of the Netanyahu government. Kerry, today, seems to have less influence in these negotiations than ever. Of course, if the U.S. has less leverage, then who has more? BTW, the decision to evacuate the Embassy in Libya only seems to underscore that some of the president’s decisions during the height of the Arab Spring are not playing out as he and his team thought they would. Has there been a single positive outcome of the Arab Spring as far as the U.S. is concerned?

The Gruber Tapes

The Huffington Post’s Jeffrey Young has an excellent analogy to describe the conservative lawsuits -- and appeals court rulings -- on whether the health-care law meant to provide subsidies to states that opted out of creating their own exchanges: It was a “Moops” moment. (Remember the Bubble Boy “Seinfeld” episode when the Trivial Pursuit card accidentally read “Moops” instead of “Moors”?) Well, as it turns out, conservatives have unearthed video of a former Obama health-care adviser essentially saying “Moops,” too. The New Republic’s Jonathan Cohn: “Did the people who designed Obamacare intend to deprive millions of people of health insurance, just because officials in their states decided not to operate their own insurance marketplaces? A lawsuit making its way through the federal judiciary, and perhaps on its way to the Supreme Court, claims the answer is yes. And while every federal official and member of Congress who worked on crafting the law in 2009 and 2010 disagrees, now there’s a video from 2012 in which one of the law’s best known advocates and architects—MIT economist Jonathan Gruber—makes the same basic argument that the lawsuit does.” As Cohn and other health-care wonks report, this is a good political (though not necessarily legal) point that conservatives have scored here. But Cohn also notes that everyone who covered the drafting of the health-care law always assumed subsidies would be available to all qualifying recipients -- not just to those from states that created their own exchanges.

Oops

And speaking of video tape, don’t miss the one from Friday when freshman Rep. Curt Clawson (R-FL) mistakenly suggested that two Obama administration officials were actually representatives of the Indian government. Foreign Policy: “Apparently confused by their Indian surnames and skin color, Clawson also asked if "their" government could loosen restrictions on U.S. capital investments in India. ‘Just as your capital is welcome here to produce good-paying jobs in the U.S., I'd like our capital to be welcome there,’ he said. ‘I ask cooperation and commitment and priority from your government in so doing. Can I have that?’ The question prompted a lengthy pause and looks of confusion from State Department and congressional staff attending the hearing. ‘I think your question is to the Indian government,’ Biswal said. "We certainly share your sentiment, and we certainly will advocate that on behalf of the U.S." It wasn’t quite a “Macaca” moment, but it was a pretty embarrassing incident. Clawson has since apologized. “I made a mistake in speaking before being fully briefed and I apologize. I’m a quick study, but in this case I shot an air ball,” Clawson said.

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