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A Long December: Five Political News Stories to Watch This Month

From immigration action to Hagel's replacement... five stories to watch this month

It’s the first day of the final month of the year, and here are the five political stories we’re watching as 2014 starts coming to a close:

  • 1. How will Republicans respond to President Obama’s immigration action? House Speaker John Boehner and GOP leaders desperately want to avoid a government shutdown (see today’s New York Times), but that also was the case in September-October 2013, and remember how that turned out. Some Republicans want to fund the government -- except for anything that has to do with immigration spending. And others, like Tom Cotton (R-AR) on “Meet the Press,” want to simply pass a short-term continuing resolution to let the next Congress tackle this fight.
  • 2. What else can the lame-duck Congress get done beyond keeping the government open? It’s worth noting -- again -- that this 113th Congress has passed just 186 bills into law. That’s behind the pace of the 112th Congress, which set the modern record for the fewest number of bills signed into law (283). The AP looks at everything else on Congress’ plate before it adjourns for good. “Their to-do list includes keeping the government running into the new year, renewing expired tax breaks for individuals and businesses and approving a defense policy measure that has passed for more than 50 years in a row. Also pending are President Barack Obama's requests for money to combat Islamic State militants, battle Ebola and deal with the influx of unaccompanied Central American children who have crossed into the U.S.”
  • 3. What path will Democrats take after their midterm drubbing? Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), of all people, fueled this conversation last week when he suggested that Democrats tackling health-care was a mistake -- and that the party should be focused on helping middle-class families. Outgoing Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick said on “Meet” that Schumer was wrong about health care. “You ask somebody who is not insured and is sick, or someone who is getting buried by healthcare-related debt, whether healthcare reform makes a difference. And they will tell you that it does make a difference.” Patrick said the real mistake by Democrats came this year, when they ran away from the president and didn’t stand up for their beliefs. Also for the party’s future path, watch the confirmation fight for liberal Wall Street banker Antonio Weiss to work in Obama’s Treasury Department. The Times wrote that it has become “an unexpected proxy war between the liberal and moderate wings of the Democratic Party.”
  • 4. Who’s Obama’s pick to replace Hagel? It seems like an eternity ago when President Obama dumped Chuck Hagel as his defense secretary. But it was just last week. Now the president has to find a replacement. Already, top contenders like Michele Flournoy and Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) have taken their names out of consideration. The focus is now on former Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter.
  • 5. Does anyone else jump into the 2016 presidential waters? Last month, former Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) became the first candidate to announce a presidential exploratory committee. Who’s next? It very well could be Dr. Ben Carson, who said this on “Meet the Press” when he asked about his time frame: "I should quickly tell you, maybe." Meanwhile, Gov. Patrick was a definite “no” on 2016. “I've thought about it, but no, I can't get ready for 2016.”

White House reacts to Ferguson

President Obama and Vice President Biden hold three meetings today at the White House in reaction to the grand jury’s decision not to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown. At noon ET, they meet with cabinet members to discuss federal programs and funding to state and local law-enforcement agencies. At 2:00 pm, they sit down with young national and local civil-rights leaders. And at 2:50 pm, they chat with elected officials, faith leaders, and law enforcement to discuss how there can be more trust between communities and police. “As the country has witnessed, disintegration of trust between law enforcement agencies and the people they protect and serve can destabilize communities, undermine the legitimacy of the criminal justice system, undermine public safety, create resentment in local communities, and make the job of delivering police services less safe and more difficult,” a White House official says, per NBC’s Kristen Welker.

Don’t expect Obama in Ferguson anytime soon

So it’s a big Ferguson Day at the White House. And given this activity, it’s more evidence that President Obama isn’t going to travel to Ferguson, MO -- at least anytime soon. Gov. Patrick tried to explain why the president probably wouldn’t go. “I think the reason it's a quandary is because the federal government is investigating right now. And you don't want to appear to influence that investigation,” he said on “Meet” yesterday. “I think also that the president is in a really tough place. Trying to be and having elected to serve as president of the whole country, and having higher expectations on issues related to race.”

Do expect a change to the administration’s fight against ISIS

While it looks like the only real change that President Obama will make to his national security team is replacing Hagel, don’t be surprised if we see the administration signal that it’s changing the course (ramping up?) in its fight against ISIS.

Don’t forget: The Landrieu-Cassidy runoff is this Saturday

The Louisiana runoff between Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and GOP challenger Bill Cassidy takes place on Saturday. The race lacks the national attention many of us thought it would get (because control of the Senate isn’t at stake -- rather, it’s the difference between the GOP controlling 53 or 54 seats). And it also lacks drama and suspense (because Cassidy has a big lead in the polling). Still, the TV ads aren’t stopping. Here is the latest from the Koch Brothers-backed Freedom Partners: “A vote for Mary Landrieu is a vote for President Obama,” a woman says in the ad. And the fundraising isn’t stopping either, with Hillary Clinton raising money for Landrieu today in New York City.

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