Saturday Morning Post: The Weekly View from Washington
The terrorist attacks in Paris are still reverberating through our political debate. And while the back-and-forth over the plight of Syrian refugees so far is dominating discussion from Capitol Hill to the presidential campaign trail, the massacre is also primed to intensify a confrontation over security between Silicon Valley and Washington. Or it seems that way. Edward Snowden’s revelations two years ago about the scope of the surveillance state, and the subsequent public backlash, thrust the tech industry into a hawkish posture on privacy. Most notably, Apple and Google both released operating systems for their smartphones that put data transmitted on them beyond the reach of even the companies themselves. That’s effectively rendered that information, in the coinage of federal law enforcement, “warrant-proof” — a draw for snoop-averse consumers and a problem for those tracking criminals and terrorists.
There’s no doubt tech chiefs have enjoyed marketing mileage from standing up to Big Brother (see: Cook, Tim). But it’s hardly as clear the situation is so zero-sum. Indeed, leading industry players have been in talks with the Obama administration for more than a year over how to restore the feds’ ability to gather communications with a court order. One Justice Department official with knowledge of the talks says after a rocky start, they’re now yielding “encouraging” progress. Neither side is a monolith. Each company, if not each product, requires a different approach — and some have proven more cooperative. The administration itself, meanwhile, is riven between those in the national security apparatus and the tech-friendly types populating the Obama White House and Commerce Department.
Officially, as of last month, the administration has dropped a push for legislation that would force industry’s hand. That leaves the back-channel talks, for now. While the attacks have injected urgency, the fact-finding into the intelligence failure that allowed them hasn’t turned up evidence the perpetrators coordinated under the cloak of encryption. They may yet. And a strike on American soil would certainly scramble the debate anew.
• The establishment is launching another strike against a still-soaring Trump
There’s a new entry in the Stop Trump sweepstakes. With the billionaire developer still riding high in Republican presidential polls, Liz Mair, a veteran GOP operative, has launched an LLC that aims to “defeat and destroy” his candidacy. Others, from the free-market Club for Growth to rival campaigns, most recently the super PAC backing Ohio Gov. John Kasich, have tried or are trying. Mair, a former online communications director for the Republican National Committee, is pledging a guerrilla campaign that will be both “dramatic and unconventional” to bring down an outsider who himself has defied political gravity with a bid fueled primary by bombast and outrage. Wall Street Journal
• New Hampshire compounds the Republican establishment’s Trump headache
Republicans spooked by Donald Trump’s durability atop the field have good reason to worry. Not much about this GOP primary has conformed to convention. But if recent past is prologue, the victor in New Hampshire, the second event of the season, will end up with the nomination. In the last two cycles, after a hardcore social conservative won Iowa, the Granite State victor has consolidated support and outlasted the remainder of the field to secure the party’s nod. This season, Trump has maintained a lead in the state since June, and his support there appears both deep and wide. If he maintains it until the votes are cast, the party’s establishment will be left with only a few options for salvaging the race, none of them appealing. New York Times
• Mexican immigrants are going home faster than they’re arriving here
Here’s a bolt from reality amid a presidential campaign whipping up whirlwinds of xenophobic paranoia: Mexican immigrants are, in fact, returning home in greater numbers than they’re traveling here. It marks the first time in more than four decades that demographic tide has reversed. Over a five-year period that ended in 2014, 870,000 Mexicans came here while 1 million returned home, according to a new report from the Pew Research Center. That is, the U.S. has experienced a net loss of 130,000 Mexican immigrants in the last half-decade. Tighter border controls and a strengthening Mexican economy account for the shift. No word yet from the Trump campaign about the apparently receding menace to our south. USA Today
Around the Water Cooler
• Don’t expect the Paris attacks to fundamentally remake the presidential race
The terrorist attacks in Paris won’t do much to clarify a muddled presidential race. Consider the various “lanes” into which the Republican candidates have organized themselves. In the so-called establishment lane, the chaos unleashed by the massacre in France does nothing to clarify the contest between the two leading contenders, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, since neither has an obvious advantage in foreign policy and their respective approaches aren’t readily distinguishable. And while the events in Europe may force voters to focus more quickly on who they want in the Oval Office at a time of global unrest, the question for them remains whether their anger at seasoned pols is worth the risk of dumping them in favor of an untested outsider. On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton can draw on her appeal as a figure who’s tested on the world stage thanks to her experience as Secretary of State, solidifying her already commanding lead in her party’s contest. Cook Political Report
• A pair of campaign super lawyers are teaming to study super PACs influence on the 2016 race
With super PACs primed to play a historically outsize role in the 2016 campaign, two of the nation’s marquis election lawyers, Democrat Bob Bauer and Republican Ben Ginsberg, are teaming up to study their impact. It’s shaping up to be a major undertaking, with major universities and a team of veteran political observers pitching in. Their aim is to study the way the free-spending accounts shape the process, beginning with each party’s nominating contest. The pair will issue their report, a diagnosis rather an a prescription, in 2017. New York Times
• Why CNN erred in suspending a reporter for a tweet
It can be tough in the freewheeling political media environment of late 2015 to perceive where the old lines governing objectivity and accountability for practitioners lie. But it seemed discordant Thursday when CNN suspended global affairs correspondent Elise Labott for tweeting that the Statue of Liberty was hanging her head in anguish over the House vote to block Syrian refugees. Compare that comment to the nightly parade of provocations broadcast by the network’s own primetime regulars and it might seem relatively tame. At the least, the inconsistently applied standard reflected its arbitrariness. Fortune
• Pfizer brings major political clout to its controversial merger bid with Allergan
There’s rare bipartisan agreement that corporate inversions — the process by which an American company buys a foreign competitor in order to relocate to a lower-tax address abroad — represent a scourge that needs to be addressed. But Pfizer, the tactic’s latest potential beneficiary, has reason to expect its proposed deal can cut through the political headwinds it will surely face: The drug maker is a big spender when it comes to both lobbying and campaign contributions, twin investments intended to sow goodwill with the policymakers who can weigh on its fate. Fortune