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.
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.
In a prime-time speech on Tuesday night, President Barack Obama made a forceful case for a possible strike against the regime of Bashar al-Assad. He reiterated the argument that the United States has both a humanitarian obligation to respond to the horrific use of chemical weapons against civilians, and a national security interest in preventing Assad from using such weapons again and signaling to other tyrants that such attacks will not be tolerated. The president tried to deploy both emotion (referring to the dreadful images from the August 21 chemical weapon attack near Damascus) and logic (contending that an assault would lessen the odds of future attacks, limit the possibility that chemical weapons fall into the hands of extremists, and prevent US troops from facing chemical weapons in conflicts down the road). He tried to respond to the main reservations raised by lawmakers and voters. (Should the United States be the world's policeman? No, but no one else can respond to this particular attack now.) The news of the night was that he asked Congress to put off any vote on a resolution authorizing him to launch a limited strike against Syria so that the United States could pursue the deal proposed by Russia that would place Assad's chemical weapons under international control. And Obama announced he was sending Kerry to negotiate with the Russian foreign minister. Still, the speech was aimed at bolstering support on Capitol Hill and within the public for military action against Syria, if diplomacy fails. Obama summed up his case:
Our ideals and principles, as well as our national security, are at stake in Syria, along with our leadership of a world where we seek to ensure that the worst weapons will never be used. America is not the world's policeman. Terrible things happen across the globe, and it is beyond our means to right every wrong. But when, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act. That's what makes America different. That's what makes us exceptional. With humility, but with resolve, let us never lose sight of that essential truth.
There's no telling whether this speech will win over skeptical citizens and legislators. But with a diplomatic resolution possible—though by no means a given—and a showdown in Congress postponed, perhaps Obama did not have to.