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Shutdown: Both Parties Avoid Action Until After Elections

<p>First Thoughts: Neither political party is likely to do anything to press big-ticket items before the midterm elections.</p>
Image: A pedestrian walks up the middle of North Capitol Street towards the U.S. Capitol building in Washington
A pedestrian walks up the middle of North Capitol Street towards the U.S. Capitol building, on largely deserted streets, as a major snow storm hits the Washington area closing U.S. Federal Government offices for the day and shutting down much of the city of Washington February 13, 2014. A deadly and intensifying winter storm packing heavy snow, sleet and rain pelted a huge swath of the U.S. East Coast on Thursday, grounding flights and shuttering schools and government offices. REUTERS/Jim Bourg (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS ENVIRONMENT)JIM BOURG / Reuters

Both parties in do-no-harm mode before upcoming midterms… Obama criticizes GOP governors at DGA fundraiser… The political activity is about to pick up: A handy calendar of the upcoming dates to watch… Reading the absentee-vote tea leaves in FL-13: Trouble for the Republicans?... The latest out of Ukraine… And Steve King takes a victory lap on immigration.


Both parties in do-no-harm mode before upcoming midterms:

After Congress passed a debt-ceiling increase -- without any strings attached -- we declared that the budget wars, at least in the short term, had ended. And as a consequence, the Obama White House has now officially removed from its budget the Social Security entitlement cuts (chained CPI) it had put on the table to reach a bigger budget deal with Republicans. “President Obama’s forthcoming budget request will seek tens of billions of dollars in fresh spending for domestic priorities while abandoning a compromise proposal to tame the national debt in part by trimming Social Security benefits,” the Washington Post writes. But there’s something else going on here besides the end of austerity: Both Democrats and Republicans have cleared the decks of ANYTHING that could divide their parties before the 2014 midterms. Republicans have essentially taken immigration off the table, as well as the threat of default or a government shutdown. Meanwhile, the White House has now removed chained CPI from its budget and slowed its push for fast-track authority. So both sides are deploying a do-no-harm strategy -- all with less than nine months before Election Day 2014. It’s just the latest reminder that Washington is not going to get ANYTHING major done this year. It’s not even March 1, and both parties are waving the policy white flags.

Obama criticizes GOP governors:

Speaking of the midterms, President Obama yesterday addressed a fundraiser for the Democratic Governors Association -- before the weekend’s national governors’ meetings begins. And in his speech, we saw Obama criticize Republican governors more than he has in the past (when he usually embraces both Democratic and Republican governors as a way to distinguish them from the Republicans that populate Washington). “Republican governors are implementing a different agenda,” the president said last night. “They’re pursuing the same top-down, failed economic policies that don’t help Americans get ahead. They’re paying for it by cutting investments in the middle class, oftentimes doing everything they can to squeeze folks who are bargaining on behalf of workers.” Yes, it was a fundraiser for Democratic governors, so he was going to certainly have some tough rhetoric aimed at the GOP. But so far, Obama has engaged more rhetorically in this midterm season than in 2010, when he was still trying to position himself for his re-election bid two years later. By the way, Obama will dine with all of the nation’s governors at the White House on Sunday, and he holds a Q&A with them on Monday. We also can report he’ll pull aside the western governors to talk about the drought and wildfire season.

The political activity is about to pick up:

The Olympics are winding down, and the President Day’s holiday is over. So that means the political activity is going to pick up over the next few weeks, and here’s a helpful list to track of all of it:

Feb. 21-24: National Governors Association meeting in DC

Feb. 22: Republicans running for GA SEN debate in Gainesville, GA

Feb. 25: Bill Clinton campaigns for Alison Grimes in Kentucky

Feb. 26: Hillary Clinton speech at University of Miami at 8:30 pm ET

March 4: Texas primary -- John Cornyn vs. Steve Stockman (and other GOPers)

March 5: Hillary Clinton gives speech at UCLA (Luskin Lecture for Thought Leadership)

March 6-8: CPAC conference in the DC area

March 8: Republicans running for GA SEN debate in Macon, GA

March 11: FL-13 special congressional election

Reading the absentee-vote tea leaves in FL-13:

Trouble for the Republicans? Regarding that special FL-13 congressional election, Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times looks at the absentee vote coming in, and he suggests that it’s bad news for Republicans. “As of Wednesday, Pinellas residents had cast more than 64,000 absentee ballot votes in the special election to succeed the late C.W. Bill Young. Of those, 42 percent came from Republicans and 39 percent from Democrats, so you might think this is good news for Republican nominee David Jolly. Wrong. Democrats and Republicans alike have predicted Republicans would have a significant turnout advantage in Congressional District 13, probably by at least seven percentage points. That Republicans have only a three point advantage at this point has to be troubling for Jolly.” Make no mistake: This is a competitive race, and Democratic candidate Alex Sink has been in this position before only to lose a winnable race. But the DCCC also knows how to win special elections and get their vote out. The election is less than a month from now…

The latest out of Ukraine: NBC News reports:

“Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovych said Friday he would hold early elections and give up some of his powers in an attempt to end the crisis which has put the country on the brink of civil war. ‘I announce the steps that should be made to restore peace and to avoid further victims of the stand-off,’ he said in a statement addressed to "compatriots.’ He also backed a return to the 2004 constitution, which further limits presidential powers in favor of parliament, and agreed to form a "government of national confidence" in the wake of this week's clashes. At least 77 people have been killed since Tuesday and more than 580 injured as a geopolitical tug-of-war over whether Ukraine should embrace the West or Russia turned violent.”

Steve King takes a victory lap on immigration:

One of the dangers of House Republican leaders hitting the brakes on achieving immigration reform this Congress is that it allows Rep. Steve King (R-IA) -- he of the “they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes” comment -- to take a victory lap. Roll Call: “… King not only isn’t sorry about his controversial comments about illegal immigrants, he’s taking credit for correcting other lawmakers’ statements. In a recent interview with his local newspaper, the Spencer Daily Reporter, King deflected all criticism waged against him and stuck by his attempts to thwart efforts by House leaders on both sides of the aisle to move forward with an overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws. ‘I’m not going to apologize. What I’ve said is objectively true, and any time that Republicans have criticized me, it’s not because of what I said, it’s because they disagree with my agenda.’”