Corn has broken stories on presidents, politicians, and other Washington players. He's written for numerous publications and is a talk show regular. His best-selling books include Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War.
My pal Chris Matthews has a well-timed book coming out next week. A quasi-memoir, Tip and the Gipper: When Politics Worked chronicles the odd-couple relationship that conservative icon Ronald Reagan and liberal workhorse Tip O'Neill developed after Reagan became president in 1981 and had to contend with the Democrat-controlled House that O'Neill presided over as speaker. Matthews was present at the creation of this pairing, serving as a young aide and strategist for the experienced, feisty, and crusty O'Neill. In fact, Matthews, as he explains in this gripping, behind-the-scenes, first-person account, was recruited as an O'Neill lieutenant by other Democrats seeking to bolster O'Neill's national standing and touch up his media skills so the speaker could have a chance in the coming political warfare between him and the popular and telegenic 40th president of the United States.
The subtitle is something of a spoiler, giving away the moral of this story. It also proclaims the here-and-now relevance of this engaging patch of history, for yes, children, once upon a time partisan arch-rivals in Washington were able to fight fiercely over profoundly important policy matters, hurling tough words and concocting clever ploys to gain the upper hand, without threatening government shutdowns or financial crises, without hostage-taking, and without resorting to the most excessive rancor. More significant, amid these bare-knuckled battles, these two strong-willed political foes were able to put aside acrimony to craft the occasional compromise, such as an accord to raise taxes (to tame deficits), legislation to strengthen Social Security, and a jobs bill to counter the ravages of recession. Government was divided, but it sort of worked.
On September 10—hours before President Barack Obama delivered a primetime White House speech on Syria—former House speaker Newt Gingrich, who was in his second day as cohost of CNN's revived Crossfire, circulated a dire fundraising email on behalf of the American Legacy Political Action Committee, which he and his wife, Callista, founded and now serve as honorary co-chairs. "The current debate regarding a strike against Syria is a classic Washington distraction," Gingrich huffed, calling the president's proposed retaliatory attack for the regime's use of chemical weapons "insignificant" and "largely symbolic." He declared that a "brief bombing campaign" would do nothing, while other issues—the possibility of a nuclear Iran, the spread of radical Islam, and cuts in US military spending—will "fall to the wayside." Gingrich asked recipients to join him in opposing Obama's threatened strike against Bashar al-Assad and urged them "to donate to American Legacy PAC today to help stop our nation from engaging in a costly endeavor that would result in few beneficial outcomes."
There was one problem with this pitch: American Legacy was doing little, if anything, to oppose possible military intervention against Syria. The PAC's website notes that it exists to support federal candidates who share conservative values. The money raised by this email would not directly finance organizing aimed at thwarting Obama's plan. And there was another problem: This PAC, founded in 2010 and fronted by Gingrich, bags a lot of money from conservative donors, but little of this cash reaches candidates. During the 2012 election cycle, the group took in $515,321—most of it from donors contributing less than $200—and it doled out a measly $9,000 to seven Republican candidates, including Ohio Senate candidate Josh Mandel, Virginia Senate candidate George Allen, and Gingrich himself.
In the current election cycle, according to federal disclosure reports and recent PAC emails, American Legacy PAC has raised $1.4 million, as of July 15. But so far it has given only $27,500, or 1 percent, of its haul to five candidates—among them Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), and Ted Cruz (R-Texas). American Legacy also transferred $500 to a committee created partly to retire the debt from Gingrich's failed 2012 presidential bid.
R.C. Hammond, a spokesman for the PAC who also was a spokesman for Gingrich's 2012 effort, says there's an explanation for the large discrepancy between funds gathered and contributions dispersed: The PAC is building up its mailing list in preparation for the coming election year, when it intends to distribute big bucks to worthy conservative contenders. Given the group's dismal 2012 record—distributing 1.7 percent of its contributions to candidates—Hammond's assertion warrants skepticism. Meanwhile, most of the money flowing into American Legacy PAC is benefiting vendors and consultants who have long been associated with Gingrich.
The conventional view in Washington these days is that President Barack Obama is not having such a great second term and might already be suffering a bit of lame duckery. After all, he failed to overcome NRA and GOP opposition to modest gun safety legislation after the horrific Newtown massacre, and his immigration reform push has crashed into that brick wall known as the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. But here's a Slate pitch: Obama is the most wily tactician in the nation's capital since Lyndon Johnson.
Consider what Obama has recently done to two of his most bothersome foes: Vladimir Putin and John Boehner. Faced with the thorny question of how to respond to the Bashar al-Assad's presumed use of chemical weapons in Syria, Obama sent conflicting messages at first. He dispatched Secretary of State John Kerry to deliver a hawkish message that seemed to suggest a retaliatory but limited strike against the regime was imminent, but then Obama surprisingly announced he would seek authorization from Congress for such an attack, fully realizing that such a move would take weeks to pull off—that is, if he could rally sufficient votes.
Mother Jones DC bureau chief David Corn spoke with MSNBC's Martin Bashir and the Washington Post's Dana Milbank this week about why the GOP is in a state of anarchy as they threaten a government shutdown unless Obamacare is defunded. Watch here:
Washington's version of Groundhog Day is approaching. In the coming days and weeks, President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans will again have to resolve dust-ups over spending legislation for the federal government (to avert a government shutdown) and the debt ceiling (to avoid a possible financial crisis). And to make this process more tortuous, conservative GOPers are insisting that the repeal of Obamacare be part of the mix, with House Republicans scheduled to vote this week on a bill to continue funding the government that withholds money for the health care law. On Monday, Obama all but dared the tea-party-driven Rs to shutter the government over Obamacare and took a hard line on the debt ceiling, declaring, "I will not negotiate over whether or not America keeps its word and meets its obligations…Let's stop the threats. Let's stop the political posturing. Let's keep our government open." But given the passions within the Grand Old Party, it could be tough for Obama to navigate the latest iteration of the Washington's never-ending budget fight—especially since this time around, he may have to do so without his secret weapon: Mitch McConnell.
Wait a minute, you say. Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate leader who has been the drum major in the GOP's parade of obstructionism? The guy who famously quipped in 2010, "The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president"? Somehow he is key to Obama surviving the perilous course ahead? Well, in the past three years, McConnell has been a central player in cooking up with the White House those crafty compromises that resolved a string of budget and tax showdowns precipitated by House Republican recalcitrance. Yet nowadays, McConnell may be unable to reprise his show-saving role.