Saturday Morning Post: The Weekly View from Washington
Back on August 23, 2011, the headlines out of Washington blared alarm. Ten days hence, the U.S. Treasury would exhaust the extraordinary measures it was employing to service the federal government’s debt, pitching the country into the certain calamity of its first ever default. The stop-and-start negotiations between Speaker John Boehner and President Obama toward a broader budget deal that would lift the debt ceiling had just broken down again. It was hardly clear whether the leaders could grope their way toward a solution that avoided a manmade fiscal disaster, let alone how.
Today, the debt limit countdown clock once again shows only ten days remain to a default. House Republicans insist now as they did then they can’t muster the support necessary to hike the debt limit without attaching entitlement cuts that are a non-starter for Obama, ready with his veto pen. Yet nobody’s panicking. Could it simply be that years of brinkmanship have inured us to living dangerously? Yes. And it’d be folly to try to state with full confidence what a House Republican conference these days governed mostly by fear and loathing will do next. Consider that amid this could-be crisis, a long-suffering Boehner intends this coming week to hand his speaker’s gavel to Paul Ryan, by outward appearances a baton-passing on a high wire during an earthquake.
But despite the seeming chaos, the route to a resolution is already presenting itself: A debt limit raise with no strings attached. Most House Republicans consider that anathema. Boehner, on his way out, only needs 32 of them. Last year in February, 28 House Republicans joined with Democrats to approve just such a move. Of that group, 19 remain in office, but in a pinch, the balance should materialize. “They have the votes,” one senior Democratic Senate aide says. “It’s a pretty safe assumption this will be solved with relatively little drama.” Note those hard-earned qualifications. Solving this problem won’t presage much for Ryan, who stands to reap the whirlwind. But weary Washington watchers should take the wins as they come.
• Clinton ties a bow on a gift of a week
Hillary Clinton on Friday secured the endorsement of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the largest union for government workers — a lagniappe to close a week that saw her clear the most significant remaining hurdles to securing the Democratic presidential nomination. Following her dominating performance in the party’s first debate last week, Vice President Joe Biden announced Wednesday he has ruled out a bid of his own. And Thursday, Clinton’s teflon appearance before the House committee investigating the Benghazi attacks appeared to close the book on lingering questions about her role in the conflagration. She carries that momentum into Iowa today, where she’ll deliver a speech to party faithful at the Jefferson-Jackson dinner.
• Jeb slashes his campaign payroll
In the latest sign that the former Florida governor, the one-time Republican presidential frontrunner, is struggling to maintain what remains of his position in the GOP hunt, Jeb Bush’s campaign announced Friday it is slashing some staff salaries by 40 percent and eliminating other positions altogether. The move comes after complaints from top donors about Bush’s flagging poll numbers and what they perceived to be a top-heavy operation. The candidate meanwhile is vowing to spend less time fundraising in favor of retail politicking in early states like New Hampshire and South Carolina where he hopes to rise.
• Anti-Trump forces are starting to organize
Donald Trump may be stumbling in Iowa, where retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson overtook him in a pair of polls this week, but the billionaire developer still leads the Republican presidential field nationally by a healthy margin. Now that he’s maintained that position for longer than there is time remaining until primary voting begins, deep-pocketed conservative donors look primed to invest in an organized effort to bring him down. To that end, the Club for Growth — the rightwing group dedicated to shrinking government — is hoping to raise fund dedicated to attacking Trump in early states, with a focus on the candidate’s unabashed support for eminent domain. Trump says he welcomes the fight.
Around the Water Cooler
• The GOP’s hard-right conservative critics profit from their rebellion
Congressional Republican leaders and those aligned with them have argued in recent years that their self-appointed conservative critics exist only to make money off the intramural warfare they stoke — “purity for profit,” as the saying goes. A New York Times review of those outside groups’ records suggests there’s grist to the complaint, as most of the money raised from grassroots donors appears to end up in the pockets of professional political consultants rather than with hard-right challengers vowing to bring the fight to the establishment. The Tea Party Leadership Fund, for example, has raised $6.7 since 2013, but only directed $910,000 of that haul to the candidates it supports, the paper found.
New York Times
• It’s not just Trump: Republicans aren’t close to embracing comprehensive immigration reform
Observers can debate the impact that Donald Trump’s anti-immigration jeremiads have had on the broader Republican consideration of the issue. What’s clear is that the GOP presidential field is circling a new consensus hostile to a comprehensive approach to the problem that party leaders prescribed as politically vital just a few years ago. The latest evidence comes from an exchange that former Florida governor Jeb Bush had with a questioner on the campaign trail this week. Once a voice of accommodation in the debate — he hails from a state with a huge Hispanic voting bloc, and is married to a Mexican-born woman — Bush appeared to foreclose on including a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented workers now in the country.
• Bush’s brain spills his guts
The new campaign finance landscape makes for some inscrutable mechanics behind the biggest-money operations. Consider Jeb Bush’s Super PAC, which raised more than $100 million in the first half of this year — many times more than its nearest rival — while remaining effectively a shadow account behind the one-time frontrunner. In an extended interview, that outfit’s chief, veteran GOP campaign hand Mike Murphy, offers some fascinating insights into why he believes the daily push-and-pull of the race obscures his candidate’s enduring strengths and how the cash pile he oversees will help leverage them down the stretch.