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First Thoughts: Cruz Puts Fellow Republicans on the Hot Seat

<div class="bdyItmPrt"><div>First Read: Texan conservative put some of his colleagues in a position to vote for a hike in the debt ceiling limit by threatening a filibuster.</div></div>
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GOP filibuster drama -- courtesy of Ted Cruz… The good health-care news for the White House -- enrollment is no longer a problem… The bad news -- HealthCare.Gov is going to be down on National Youth Enrollment Day… Keeping an eye on Syria… Going down the rabbit hole of New Jersey politics… Not a good headline for Rand Paul… And gay GOP congressional candidate airs campaign video featuring his partner.

GOP filibuster drama -- courtesy of Ted Cruz

It’s a snow day in Washington, but politics goes on. And the story that’s buzzing is the behind-the-scenes drama from yesterday’s Senate approval of the “clean” debt-ceiling increase. That drama? Thanks to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)’s filibuster of the legislation, several Republicans -- including the top-two GOP leaders (both of whom are facing primary challenges) -- were forced to vote for the debt-ceiling hike. Politico: “The [GOP] leaders had wanted to allow the toxic measure to pass with just 51 votes so all 45 Republicans could vote against it. But Cruz, the Texas tea party freshman, demanded approval by a 60-vote threshold. So McConnell and Cornyn tried to persuade more than five Republicans in safe seats to support the effort, but they were met with stiff resistance. No Republican wanted to be vote No. 60 to advance a bill to raise the debt ceiling without spending cuts, forcing the GOP leaders to secure a comfortable margin of victory or risk being blamed for a historic debt default.” The Senate Republicans who voted for cloture: Mitch McConnell (who’s facing a GOP primary challenge), John Cornyn (ditto), Orrin Hatch John Thune, John McCain, Lisa Murkowski, and Susan Collins. Ted Cruz has said he will not work against GOP incumbents facing Tea Party primary challenges this year. But by waging a filibuster, he sure gave Matt Bevin (who’s challenging McConnell) and Steve Stockman (running against Cornyn) some ammunition to use.

The 2014 Senate GOPers who had to take tough votes, and those who didn’t

While McConnell and Cornyn voted for cloture, the other Senate Republicans facing primary challenges -- Thad Cochran (R-MS), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), and Pat Roberts (R-KS) -- still voted against it. But bottom line: Cruz yesterday forced his fellow Republicans to take tough votes they didn’t have to.

The good health-care news for the White House -- enrollment is no longer a problem

Here’s the conclusion you can reach from the new health-care numbers the Obama administration released on Wednesday: Months after the all the website woes, the health law no longer has an overall enrollment problem. According to the stats, 3.3 million have now signed up for health-care coverage through Feb. 1 (1.4 million in state marketplaces, 1.9 million in the federal one), and 1.1 million signed up in January alone. Yes, that overall number is still below what was expected before the website problem, but enrollment is growing, and it’s fairly easy to see how the number gets to at least 6 million -- and maybe higher -- by the March 31 deadline. But if overall enrollment is pretty much fixed, the administration still faces other potential problems with the health law. Will the exchanges have enough young and healthy people? (Per the stats, just 25% of enrollees are between 18-34, down from the expected 40%.) Are the insurance companies getting the correct information and payments from its new customers? (We don’t know the answer yet.) And what will next year’s premiums be? (That could be the law’s next big hurdle.) But the good news for the administration is that enrollment is no longer the chief problem.

The bad health-care news

HealthCare.Gov is going to be down on National Youth Enrollment Day: But on the same day we learned about growing enrollment under the health-care law, Buzzfeed broke this story: “Saturday is National Youth Enrollment Day for Obamacare, a day designed to help make up for youth recruitment time lost while was down last year. It will be marked by a broad array of events, from Head Start information sessions to pub crawls. The day will also feature a outage that came as a surprise to the White House allies who have been planning Feb. 15 enrollment activities for weeks.” Doh… Just another day of two steps forward and one step back with health care.

Keeping an eye on Syria

Syria was a big topic of conversation between President Obama and French President Hollande. It also will be a big topic when Obama meets with the king of Jordan in California later in the week. And Syria is being discussed because the conflict there is still a problem. The U.S. can’t send in troops (due to the Iraq Syndrome), but nothing is working there. The president all but admitted that during the joint presser Tuesday with Hollande. We can report that Syria is truly weighing heavily on the president and he’s very frustrated; there are no obvious solutions; he knows the current policy isn’t producing the results he had hoped; they still feel as if they have no choice but to try and force this political path. And the White House is trying to find a way out. But his options are very limited; This is one of those legacy issues; it’s happening on his watch.

Going down the rabbit hole of New Jersey politics

If you want to know why 2014 plans to be such a frustrating year for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, think of all of the subpoenas and potential revelations from them, the possible grand jury testimony, and any indictments in the ongoing scandals. And that’s assuming nothing even touches the governor himself. But as a brand-new New Republic piece reminds us, 2014 also will be rough for Christie because news organizations are going to go down the rabbit hole of New Jersey politics and find that the way the game is played there isn’t pretty. “Christie owes his rise to some of the most toxic forces in his state—powerful bosses who ensure that his vow to clean up New Jersey will never come to pass. He has allowed them to escape scrutiny, rewarded them for their support, and punished their enemies. All along, even as it looked like Christie was attacking the machine, he was really just mastering it.” The New Republic article is a good snow-day read, and it’s a reminder that New Jersey (given the Christie administration scandals and investigative pieces on Bob Menendez) MIGHT give Illinois and Louisiana a run for their money when it comes to the appearance of unseemly politics.

Nagin convicted in Louisiana

Yet speaking of Louisiana politics, here was this news out of the Big Easy. “Former New Orleans mayor C. Ray Nagin — who became the face of a desperate, drowning city during Hurricane Katrina — was convicted Wednesday on charges of accepting bribes from city contractors while in office,” the Washington Post writes. “Nagin, a Democrat, was found guilty by a federal jury on 20 of 21 criminal counts, including bribery, conspiracy and wire fraud. He was acquitted on one count of bribery.”

Not a good headline for Rand Paul

Sen. Rand Paul grabbed headlines yesterday for his lawsuit against the NSA surveillance program. But this is a headline he probably was hoping he wouldn’t get: “Rand Paul and Ken Cuccinelli accused of stealing NSA lawsuit.” From the piece by the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank: “Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has been caught using purloined passages in several of his speeches. Now the aspiring presidential candidate stands accused of filing a lawsuit stolen from its author. Since December, the libertarian lawmaker, a tea party favorite, had been working with former Reagan administration lawyer Bruce Fein to draft a class-action suit seeking to have the National Security Agency’s surveillance of telephone data declared unconstitutional; the two men appeared together as early as last June to denounce the NSA’s activities.” More: “But when Paul filed his suit at the U.S. District Court in Washington on Wednesday morning, Fein’s name had been replaced with that of Ken Cuccinelli, the failed Republican gubernatorial candidate in Virginia who until last month had been the state’s attorney general. Cuccinelli has never argued a case in that courthouse, and he isn’t even a member of the D.C. bar (he also filed a motion Wednesday seeking an exception to allow him to argue this case in D.C.). But he is, like Paul, a tea party darling.” This was a really curious move by Paul; he had been making moves to try and show himself to be more of a bridge between the establishment and the Tea Party. To actively seek more Tea Party support for this P.R. stunt when he could have had more bipartisan support; he had a Democratic senator who apparently was going to sign on to the lawsuit but Cuccinelli decided to remove him. The entire episode is truly odd and not exactly a confidence building move for some mainstream GOP donors who are watching to see if Paul as a potential 2016 candidate has the discipline to lead the party.

Gay Republican congressional candidate airs campaign video featuring his partner

Earlier this week, we wrote how college football star Michael Sam could make history as the first openly gay NFL football player. Well, here’s another piece of history: There’s a gay Republican congressional candidate airing a campaign video that features his partner. The Wall Street Journal: “Carl DeMaio is one of three openly gay Republicans running for Congress this year, and he would be at least the third to serve in the House if he wins. But Mr. DeMaio on Thursday will take a step that none of them has, airing a campaign ad that features a shot of him with his same-sex partner. The clips are brief: A shot of Mr. DeMaio holding hands with his partner, Johnathan Hale, as they march in a gay pride parade in 2012, followed by a clip of the San Diego candidate waving a rainbow flag that symbolizes the gay-rights movement.” It’s worth noting that DeMaio and the pro-gay-rights candidate who won Tuesday’s mayoral contest in San Diego (Kevin Faulconer) both reside in California, the state where the GOP has been decimated by changing demographics and social issues.

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