Saturday Morning Post: The Weekly View from Washington
The three leading Democratic presidential candidates gather for their second debate in Des Moines, Iowa tonight under the pall of the Paris terrorist attacks. That the event would go forward was in question into Friday evening, until CBS, which is hosting, and the Democratic National Committee both confirmed it. There’s no formal theme to the debate, though moderator John Dickerson had signaled economic issues would take centerstage. How far CBS goes to reorder the focus in the wake of the attacks isn’t clear, but Steve Capus, the network’s news chief, on Friday tweeted the massacre “require[s] important questions for the candidates.”
The Democratic field itself may be stabler than the format: As opposed to a still-roiling Republican contest, the race is now Clinton’s to lose. She’s padded her lead by about 11 points since the last debate, placing her in a commanding position two and a half months before the Iowa caucus that kicks off the primary voting. Here’s what we’ll be watching for tonight:
Do the candidates clash on foreign policy in the wake of the attacks?
During President Obama’s first term, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton argued, unsuccessfully, for the administration to launch a more muscular response to the chaos engulfing Syria and Libya. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders throughout his career has taken a distinctly dovish approach. Unlike Clinton, he opposed authorizing the Iraq war, and he has said he only believes the U.S. should provide a supporting role behind a coalition of Arab countries in Syria. The attacks in Paris could throw those differences into sharper relief.
Which Bernie Sanders shows up?
In their first debate a month ago, Sanders delivered Clinton a gift by declaring that “the American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails.” At the time, it seemed Clinton’s chief rival had absolved her of some liability for the controversy over her use of a private email server while Secretary of State. Since, he’s recast it, telling the Wall Street Journal there are “valid questions” about the practice and the federal investigation into it should “proceed unimpeded.” That’s squared with a candidate seemingly keener on drawing distinctions with the frontrunner.
Might the Maryland man make a moment?
Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, flirting with obsolescence in the polls, is running out of time to demonstrate he offers a viable alternative for those Democratic voters otherwise unhappy with their options. His bid is in existential need of a breakout moment (or two). That sort of neediness spawns backfires as often as not, casting O’Malley as an unknown variable.
• Ted Cruz veers right in immigration dustup with Marco Rubio
The 2013 version of Ted Cruz favored expanding legal immigration to boost economic growth. The 2015 version of the Texas Republican now wants to choke it off, as part of a broader crackdown on immigration. What happened in between was Donald Trump. In the latest sign of how the raucous GOP presidential primary is wrenching the party rightward — and creating new general election liabilities — Cruz has flip-flopped on the explosive issue as he engages over it with Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a leading rival. This is the nightmare scenario establishment Republicans hoped to avoid when they pushed in vain for a quick and comprehensive approach to reform in the wake of the party’s 2012 wipeout among Hispanic voters. Fortune
• Charles Koch doesn’t like what he sees from the GOP presidential field
The billionaire industrialist and conservative mega-donor recently made clear he will be staying out of the Republican primary. On Friday, he gave a clue why: He’s underwhelmed by the talent on offer. In a rare public appearance at EY’s Strategic Growth Forum, Koch said he’s hearing “not nearly enough” from the candidates on free-market principles. And he took what could be viewed as a veiled swipe at Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who’s pushing a new child tax credit as the centerpiece of his tax plan. “They talk about a tax credit for this, a credit for that,” Koch said. “That’s just more market manipulation.” Fortune
• The GOP Empire doesn’t know how to strike back
With time before the launch of GOP primary voting fast approaching, establishment Republicans are getting increasingly frantic. They’ve spent months convincing themselves that the outsider candidacies of Donald Trump and Ben Carson would collapse under their own weight, but the pair continue to defy political gravity by leading in both national and early-state polls, with no obvious levers left to dislodge them. The panic’s grown intense enough in some quarters that there’s renewed talk of trying to draft 2012 nominee Mitt Romney into the race, despite the presence of seemingly qualified fresher faces. And a concerted, big-money campaign to sink Trump and Carson hasn’t yet materialized because there’s no consensus about whether or how it could work. Washington Post
Around the Water Cooler
• Members of Congress are spending too much time at home
House Republican leaders recently released next year’s Congressional work schedule, revealing they plan to spend a scandalously scant amount of time in Washington doing the people’s business. Specifically, they’ll be averaging roughly two days a week in session — the chamber will be shuttered for more weekdays than it will be open, and that includes some partial days. Lawmakers for years have awarded themselves sufficient travel budgets to return home once a week, a well-meaning exercise in staying close to their constituents. Congressional approval ratings indicate constituents don’t much appreciate it. Elected reps could benefit from more time in Washington, forging relationships with each other while keeping focused on all their undone work. Washington Post
• Rubio has a sugary liability, and Cruz knows it
As Florida Sen. Marco Rubio rises in the 2016 Republican presidential stakes, look for his relationship with the Fanjul brothers, billionaire Florida sugar barons, to draw closer scrutiny. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Rubio’s conservative foil-in-waiting, telegraphed how he plans to make the connection a campaign issue during the last debate, when he decried the $2 billion annual giveaway from federal sugar subsidies. Rubio supports the program — a boon to the Fanjuls, a top source of his campaign funds — and for a self-described free-market champion, it will be tough to defend on the merits. National Review
• Conservative hardliners finally name their ransom
The House Freedom Caucus — the hardest-right faction of the House GOP — has long faced criticism from within their own party that they’re legislative nihilists who’re only interested in tearing down compromises. Now, the group is putting pen to paper to outline a positive agenda. Their “Contract with America II” echoes the package of pledges that House Republicans surfed to power in the 1994 midterms. Still in draft form, the program calls for cutting government regulations by 20%, expending offshore drilling, slashing corporate tax rates, overhauling entitlements, replacing Obamacare and repealing the estate tax. Perhaps needless to say, even under unified Republican control of Congress, all those goals remain long shots. Bloomberg