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.
Last week, I explained the DC Ticker I compile most days, which is now being featured on ABC News' website show, Political Punch, hosted by Jake Tapper. Here are the picks featured on this week's PP:
* Dick Cheney, buy. After a summer heart operation that was quite serious, the ex-veep is back in the saddle, once again making speeches defending his administration and criticizing Obama. We still have Dick Cheney to kick around.
* George Allen, buy. From "macaca" to back-at-ya. He's considering a 2012 run for his old Senate seat in Virginia. With purple Virginia looking more reddish these days, the fellow might have a good shot against the man who defeated him in 2006, Democratic Sen. Jim Webb.
* Sharron Angle, buy. Polls show her ahead or close in the race against Democratic Senate majority leader Harry Reid. Given how lousy a candidate she's been, it shouldn't be this close.
* Rep. Walt Minnick, buy. In the (supposed) Year of the Tea Party, can a first-term House Democrat win reelection in the conservative wilds of Idaho? Dems are increasingly confident Minnick can hold his at-risk seat.
* Rich Iott, sell. Nazi reenactment? Say no more. (But it's never a good thing when a candidate is compelled to clarify that he does not subscribe to the tenets of Nazism.)
You can receive the almost-daily DC Ticker report by following my Twitter feed. (#DCticker is the Twitter hashtag.) Please feel free to argue with my selections—though all decisions of the judges are final. And please feel free to make suggestions for buy or sell orders in the comments below or on Twitter (by replying to @DavidCornDC). Don't forget: DC Ticker is merely an advisory service. It and its author cannot be held liable for any investments made in politicians, policy wonks, or government officials on the basis of the information presented. Invest in politics at your own risk.
In a season of staff transition at the White House—a new chief of staff, rumors of a new press secretary, talk of adviser David Axelrod leaving—President Barack Obama may have today announced the most consequential personnel decision of the second half of his first term, even before that second half begins. Standing in the Rose Garden on Friday afternoon, the president issued the unsurprising announcement that National Security Adviser Jim Jones, a retired Marine general, will be departing and replaced by his deputy Tom Donilon, a long-time Democratic Washington insider. (Jones' exit from Obamaland had long been expected, given that from the start he had not fit in well with the president's crowd.)
On Obama's to-do list, after fixing the economy (which may be beyond his control), the next big item in the coming year will be Afghanistan. While pouring more money and troops into the war, the president has vowed to start a drawdown in July 2011. And it's no secret—ask Bob Woodward—that the US military is not eager to bug out next summer. The current strategy in Afghanistan is focused on counterinsurgency (COIN, in military-speak), which entails not only defeating the enemy in military terms but securing contested areas by developing civil order, providing security, and winning over the local populace. For plenty of reasons, it's questionable how much success the United States can manage on all these fronts in a country dominated by tribal, ethnic, and regional rivalries and hindered by pervasive illiteracy, corruption, and poverty. Certainly, there's serious doubt that any COIN strategy can be fully and successfully implemented by July.
Which means the US military at that point will likely not be eager to salute and initiate a withdrawal. Woodward's recent book telegraphs the conflict to come. Obama is depicted as committed to at least beginning a disengagement in 10 months. The generals will be pressing for more time, more troops, and more wiggle room. A vigorous—shall we say—debate is likely to ensue. It will probably kick off with the administration's scheduled year-end review of its Afghanistan/Pakistan policy, and it will involve all the power centers of the national security establishment: the Joint Chiefs, the civilian Pentagon leaders, the State Department, the vice president's office. The fellow in charge of managing this all-important discussion will be the national security adviser. That's his Job One—coordinating the crafting of national security policy.
For the first 21 months of his presidency, Obama has been able to keep the various national security players aboard and relatively united on Afghanistan. But the divisions are well-known. Vice President Joe Biden and his squad are not keen on COIN. (They have advocated a more narrowly targeted counterterrorism approach). And the generals wanted more troops than Obama OKed. But with Obama's July deadline nearing, the internal conflicts will not easily be contained. The debate could get ugly, as the president is presented with the tough choice of staying or going (or something in between).
Donilon will be at the center of the policy and bureaucratic storm. In administrations past, the national security adviser has sometimes failed in this crucial role. The best example of that: Condoleezza Rice, who was unable to be an honest and effective broker between Colin Powell's State Department and the alliance of Don Rumsfeld's Pentagon and Dick Cheney's vice presidential crew. In the weeks ahead, Donilon will have to make sure all that the players are in line and Obama receives the most accurate information necessary for rendering what will be one of the most significant decisions of his presidency.
How Obama handles the Afghanistan dilemma could well shape his presidency as he heads into the 2012 campaign season. And much of that could depend on how Donilon does his job.
If the Republicans gain control of the House of Representatives in the coming congressional elections, Americans can expect to see subpoenas flying like pigeons around Washington next year. Rep. Darrell Issa, the California Republican likely to take over the House oversight committee, has pledged that if the GOPers win the House, he will double the size of his staff in order to mount multiple investigations of the Obama White House. But will these be real probes or trumped-up witch hunts? A taste of what's to come can be found in the Republicans' current effort to whip up an Obama scandal: GoolsbeeGate.
The issue: Did White House economic aide Austan Goolsbee nefariously gain access to the confidential tax records of Koch Industries, a megafirm privately owned by the billionaire Koch brothers, who have funded much anti-Obama political activity? The short answer: Probably not. But that hasn't stopped the scandalmakers, while the White House response has provided them running room.
This controversy began with an August 27 press briefing, which featured an administration official speaking on background (meaning he could be quoted by position, not by name) to discuss a recent report on the US corporate tax system. That report noted businesses were increasingly eschewing corporate structures in favor of partnerships and other so-called "pass-through" entities to duck corporate income taxes. This official told reporters:
So in this country, we have partnerships, S corps, we have LLCs—we have a series of entities that do not pay corporate income tax. Some of which are really giant firms. You know, Koch Industries, I think, is one, is a multibillion dollar business, and so that creates a narrower base because we got literally something like 50 percent of the business income in the US is going to businesses that don’t pay any corporate income tax.
Aha! Republicans cried: The White House could only know about Koch Industries' tax status because it rifled through confidential IRS records to gather dirt on its political foes. Mark Holden, Koch's general counsel, complained about how the White House had obtained this information on the company. Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) issued a statement slamming the White House for possible "unlawful use of Internal Revenue Service documents." Holden then told the conservative Weekly Standard that the administration official in question was Goolsbee. (I didn't participate in that briefing, but it's widely accepted within the press corps that Goolsbee made those comments.) The White House maintained that the information about Koch Industries had not come from IRS files but from testimony before the President's Economic Recovery Advisory Board and the company's own website:
No senior administration officials have any access to anyone's tax returns—individual or business. The administration official was discussing the section of the PERAB's tax report that argued we should look at the rising importance of pass through entities that do not pay corporate income tax.
This issue was raised repeatedly by outside experts that testified before the PERAB and Koch was cited to the PERAB as an example by outside commenters to the group. We assume it came up from publicly available information such as the Forbes magazine annual report listing Koch as one of the largest private companies in the nation or the fact that a high fraction of the largest companies within Koch Industries are listed on the Koch website as LLCs, LPs or other frequent pass-through entities. If this information is incorrect, we are happy to revise statements.
And Goolsbee did say, "I think," when he had referred to Koch Industries—hardly evidence he was slyly exploiting ill-gotten information. But none of that stopped the Republicans. On September 23, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and six other Senate GOPers sent IRS Inspector General Russell George a letter asking him to investigate "a very serious allegation that Administration employees may have improperly accessed and disclosed confidential taxpayer information." And five days later, George wrote back to say he had "ordered the commencement of a review into the matters alleged."
For some time, I've had a mostly daily feature on my Twitter feed called DC Ticker, in which I issue buy or sell orders for various political and policy players. It's amusing (I hope) shorthand for who's trending up or down, according to the news of the moment. I keep the assessment non-ideological. Some Twitter followers were irritated recently when I issued a buy order for Karl Rove, but this rating was based on the increasing influence of the billionaire-funded super-PAC he has put together to exploit the Citizens United decision and assist GOP candidates in the 2010 congressional campaigns.
Now, DC Ticker is expanding. ABC News White House correspondent Jake Tapper is starting a weekly digital show today. It's called Political Punch, which happens to be the name of his rather good blog. Each edition of the PP show will include a DC Ticker report from me. Part of the fun so far in compiling the DC Ticker has been in not explaining the picks. Often, the reasoning is obvious (if you pay attention to political developments). But not always. Occasionally, if enough people ask, I might offer an explanation. But there's no guarantee. The producers of Tapper's new show, though, have requested transparency for DC Ticker. So here's a brief run-down of the choices and the whys.
* Bill Burton, buy. Lots of chatter of late about White House press secretary Robert Gibbs leaving his post for another White House gig or to head the Democratic National Committee. Burton, the assistant press secretary, is in line to take Gibb's place at the podium (though there are others presumably in contention).
* Rep. Pete Sessions, sell. He heads the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee. With a flurry of articles saying, well, the Democrats just may be able to hold on to the House majority, his stock is slipping.
* John McCain, sell. A New Yorkerpiece contained a telling nugget: McCain dressing down Sen. Lindsey Graham, a fellow Republican, for trying to steal McCain's "maverick" label. High school, anyone?
* Anthony Kennedy, buy. Yeah, yeah, yeah, there's a new Supreme Court Justice named Elena Kagan, and she is a she. But as the court opens its term this week, Kennedy remains the main swinger on this bench.
* Jon Stewart, buy. At the start of this week, nearly 200,000 people had declared on Facebook that they will attend his Rally To Restore Sanity on October 30 in Washington, DC. Whether this event is serious or a stunt, Stewart wins: he'll get plenty of media attention this month and, best of all, a ratings hike. (For my quasi-serious take on Stewartpalooza, see here.)
You can receive my almost-daily DC Ticker report by following my Twitter feed. (#DCticker is the Twitter hashtag.) Please feel free to argue with my selections—though all decisions of the judges are final. And please feel free to make suggestions for buy or sell orders in the comments below or on Twitter (by replying to @DavidCornDC). And there's this: DC Ticker is merely an advisory service. It and its author cannot be held liable for any investments made in politicians, policy wonks, or government officials on the basis of the information presented.
The White House doesn't want its activists to disrupt the backroom deals its aides cut with lobbyists and legislators, nor does it want them putting too much pressure on obstructionist Democrats, lest it alienate key swing votes in Congress. When MoveOn.org ran ads targeting conservative Democrats who were blocking healthcare reform, Rahm Emanuel memorably called the ads "fucking retarded." And, indeed, the White House has expended considerable political capital denouncing the "professional left" and defending apostate Democrats like Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas from insurgent primary challengers, which has further undermined Obama's reformist brand.
"I'm not looking to pick another fight with Rahm Emanuel, but the contempt with which he held the progressive wing of the party was devastating and incredibly demoralizing," [former Democratic Party chief Howard] Dean says. "That's basically saying to your own people, You got us here, now F-you."
Emanuel received a standing ovation in the East Room from the White House staff on Friday morning when President Barack Obama officially announced his departure.