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GOP Plays Defense, But Where's the Policy Agenda?

Twenty years after the GOP's "Contract with America" -- what major reforms are Republicans ready to campaign for now?
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Last Saturday marked the 20th anniversary of the Republican Party’s “Contract with America” -- the major reforms the House GOP said it would pass when it took control of Congress. And the anniversary is all the more noteworthy because, 20 years later as Republicans are in sight of having majorities in both the House and Senate next year, the GOP isn’t campaigning on new reforms or policies. Instead, it’s playing political prevent defense to capitalize on an unpopular president and in a midterm environment that almost always benefits the political party not in charge of the White House. In their midterm messaging, Republican say they want to repeal the federal health-care law, but replace it with what? They want to “secure” the border, but how do you accomplish that (and at what cost)? And they want to take the fight to ISIS in the Middle East, but aren’t leaving the campaign trail to vote on authorizing U.S. military force there. (Over the weekend, House Speaker John Boehner said he would call the House back into session for an authorization vote, but only if President Obama called for one.) As Lou Zickar of the Ripon Society, a moderate GOP group, put it: The 1994 Contract with America “is a moment worth remembering because it was also a time when the GOP loudly and proudly proclaimed not what they stood against, but what they stood for.” And remember for these Republican Senate candidates, they’re running for six-year terms, and four of those years will be spent when someone other than Barack Obama is in the White House.

The Contract with (Nearly) Nothing

Republicans counter that they do have policies and reforms they’re pushing. “We have focused like a laser for the last three and a half years on jobs and the economy,” Boehner told ABC. “Over 40 bills sitting in the U.S. Senate. Let's start with those bills. How about repealing the tax on medical devices? Broad bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate. How about the Keystone pipeline? Broad bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate.” But that’s it? Economic legislation that is likely never going to be signed by a Democratic president, repealing a medical-device tax, and approving the Keystone XL pipeline represent the GOP’s agenda as it stands on the cusp of controlling the 114th Congress? That’s a far cry from 1994. What are Republicans going to do controlling both the House and Senate? What will their first 100 days look like? We don’t have an answer.

Plenty of blame to go around -- for everyone -- when it comes to ISIS

Yesterday, we wrote that we were wholly unsurprised by President Obama’s remark that U.S. intelligence had underestimated ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Why? Because it’s true. And what’s also true is that EVERYONE -- the Obama administration, the intelligence community, the Iraqi government -- underestimated ISIS. Here’s the New York Times: “A reconstruction of the past year suggests a number of pivotal moments when both the White House and the intelligence community misjudged the Islamic State. Even after the group’s fighters stormed across the border into Iraq at the start of the year to capture the city of Falluja and parts of Ramadi, the White House considered it a problem that could be contained.” More: “Intelligence agencies were caught off guard by the speed of the extremists’ subsequent advance across northern Iraq. And the government as a whole was largely focused on the group as a source of foreign fighters who might pose a terrorism threat when they returned home, not as a force intent on seizing territory.”

But why Obama’s getting blowback here

So as is often the case, there’s plenty of blame to go around when there’s a defeat, surprise, or underestimation. Yet what is problematic for Obama here is the way he disassociated himself from the underestimation. Yes, the way CBS asked the question (citing DNI Director James Clapper claiming they underestimated ISIS) helps to explain Obama’s answer. But had Obama simply said what we pointed out above -- EVERYONE screwed up -- he wouldn’t have gotten the blowback he’s now getting. This is a bad habit of Obama's and only gives openings to his critics that he won't accept some accountability. The real question for everyone six months ago: Did they want to hear how bad the news was in Iraq and Syria?

Secret Service to face tough questions on Capitol Hill

Speaking of blame, there’s the jaw-dropping Washington Post report that the recent White House fence-jumper (who was carrying a knife) got farther into the White House than anyone had known. And expect it to be fodder when the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee holds a hearing at 10:00 am ET grilling Julia Pierson, the director of the U.S. Secret Service. Here’s the Washington Post: “After barreling past the guard immediately inside the door, [Omar] Gonzalez, who was carrying a knife, dashed past the stairway leading a half-flight up to the first family’s living quarters. He then ran into the 80-foot-long East Room, an ornate space often used for receptions or presidential addresses. Gonzalez was tackled by a counterassault agent at the far southern end of the East Room. The intruder reached the doorway to the Green Room, a parlor overlooking the South Lawn with artwork and antique furniture, according to three people familiar with the incident.”

MIA: Terri Lynn Land

Don’t miss this NPR piece: Terri Lynn Land’s “last public appearance was at a Republican dinner in Macomb County LAST Tuesday. Since then, nothing.” That said, Land will make an appearance when Mitt Romney stumps for her on Thursday. But just one campaign appearance in more than a week -- with 35 days until Election Day?

First Read’s Race of the Day: MN-8: Nolan vs. Mills

Democrat Rick Nolan served three terms in Congress beginning in 1974, then took a three-decade break until returning to Capitol Hill last cycle. Now that he’s back in the saddle, though, he’s discovering that times have changed as he faces a first-time candidate with deep pockets. Nolan, said to have maintained old-school attitudes about fundraising, has been outmatched by wealthy businessman Stewart Mills, prompting the DCCC to list him among their most endangered members. Mills is sure to get some media attention for more than just his quarterly FEC filings; with long blond hair and good looks, he’s been dubbed the “Brad Pitt of the Republican Party.”

Countdown to Election Day: 35 days

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