Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker will visit the US-Mexico border on Friday with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. Walker, who is considering a run for president, is aiming to bolster his credentials as a critic of President Obama's immigration policies. A photo wouldn't hurt either.
The Mexican border is now an almost mandatory pit stop for Republican politicians (especially presidential aspirants) looking for the aura of on-the-ground experience on immigration. Sure, talking to a rancher, staring across a river, and visiting a detention facility in McAllen for 30 minutes might not offer much of a big-picture perspective. But that hasn't stopped lawmakers from surveying the region in gunboats, ATVs, helicopters, and jeeps—invariably with camera crews in tow. Here's a roundup:
Former Gov. Rick Perry: As governor of Texas for 14 years, Perry had plenty of opportunities to work on his border game face, and it shows:
Sen. Marco Rubio: The Florida senator may take a hit from some conservatives for his support for a path to citizenship for some undocumented residents, but he demonstrated his ability to look stern while gazing into the great unknown on this visit to El Paso in 2011:
Gov. Bobby Jindal: Last November, Louisiana's chief executive toured the Mexican border by boat and helicopter in the hopes of better understanding the child migrant crisis, which by that point had already subsided. Jindal's entourage didn't come away empty-handed: "In at least three locations, we saw where people were trying to make their way into Texas in an unimpeded manner," boasted one member of Jindal's group.
Sen. Ted Cruz: Texas' junior senator has made more visits to Iowa than he has to South Texas, his state's poorest region (much to locals' chagrin). But last year, as media interest in the child migrant crisis peaked, he took the time to visit the border and tour a migrant processing facility in McAllen with former Fox News personality Glenn Beck:
For now, the rest of the field is playing catch-up. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee visited the border in Texas during his 2008 campaign (joined at the Rio Grande by action star Chuck Norris) but has not been back since. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul has not visited the border, although he did propose building a fence along New Hampshire's southern border to keep out people from Massachusetts. Acclaimed pediatric neurosurgeon Ben Carson recently visited the Israeli border, where he mistook construction equipment for machine gun fire.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie may be the only potential candidate who has avoided the border on principle. Although he visited Mexico City on a trade mission in 2014, he balked at extending his trip to the Rio Grande—which is very far from both Mexico City and New Jersey. "This is silliness," he told NJ.com. "If I went down there and looked at it, what steps am I supposed to take exactly? Send the New Jersey National Guard there?"
It's not just potential Republican candidates getting in on the action. In recent years, the Rio Grande has been a frequent destination for DC's finest. In 2013, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.)—who is not running for president—watched law enforcement apprehend a woman who had scaled the 18-foot border fence in Nogales. That same year, while aboard a speed boat with two Republican colleagues, Rep. Leonard Lance (R-N.J.) found a body floating in the Rio Grande. ("It was a vivid reminder that we have to secure our border and do it as quickly as possible," he told Roll Call.) Last year, Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas) traveled to McAllen accompanied by writer (and birther) Jerome Corsi and a film crew from conspiracy website WorldNetDaily. The crew showed up unannounced at a DHS detention center at midnight and was not allowed in.
Still, Walker is smart to get his border-fence photo-op out of the way early—it may not be there much longer. If elected president, real-estate mogul Donald Trump (who has not visited the border) has pledged to personally supervise the construction of a new barrier along the southern border that will permanently end illegal immigration. "A wall," he told Iowa voters last week. "A real wall...not a wall that people walk over."
President Trump's 2020 challengers may have to visit the Canadian border instead.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee thinks questions about Hillary Clinton's emails as secretary of state "will linger" throughout the 2016 presidential race. "If the law said you had to maintain every email for public inspection, that's what you got to do," he recently told ABC News. Huckabee also suggested that the missing emails might shed new light on the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya in 2012.
Huckabee, who is considering a second run for president himself, is probably right that the issue of secrecy will dog Clinton's campaign going forward. But he might not be the best man to make that case. As Mother Jonesreported in 2011, Huckabee destroyed his administration's state records before leaving office in 2007.
In February, Mother Jones wrote to the office of Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe seeking access to a variety of records concerning his predecessor's tenure, including Huckabee's travel records, calendars, call logs, and emails. Beebe's chief legal counsel, Tim Gauger, replied in a letter that "former Governor Huckabee did not leave behind any hard-copies of the types of documents you seek. Moreover, at that time, all of the computers used by former Governor Huckabee and his staff had already been removed from the office and, as we understand it, the hard-drives in those computers had already been 'cleaned' and physically destroyed."
He added, "In short, our office does not possess, does not have access to, and is not the custodian of any of the records you seek."
Huckabee responded at the time by attacking Mother Jones, which he claimed "doesn't pretend to be a real news outlet, but a highly polarized opinion-driven vehicle for all things to the far left." He also called the story "factually challenged." But the Arkansas Department of Information Systems confirmed that the hard drives had been destroyed while he was still in the governor's mansion. Legal? Sure. But absolutely shady.
Even before he destroyed his hard drives rather than grant the public access to his records, Huckabee took a combative approach to public records requests. When Arkansas Times editor Max Brantley (who has also weighed in on Huckabee's transparency record) requested documents from Huckabee in 1995, the then-lieutenant governor flipped out. In a press release issued by his campaign, he attacked Brantley as a "disgruntled and embittered wannabe editor" from a "trashy little tabloid"—and went after Brantley's wife, a Clinton judicial appointee, for good measure. All because the editor filed a request for records every citizen was entitled to.
Dale Bumpers Papers, Special Collections, University of Arkansas
Hillary Clinton's missing emails are a legitimate scandal if you care about government transparency. But many of her loudest critics have done little to inspire confidence they'd do anything differently.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) launched his presidential campaign on Monday at Virginia's Liberty University, a private Christian college founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell. Liberty has become a mandatory stop for aspiring Republican candidates—and it's not just for the campus museum exhibit of the taxidermied bear that Falwell's father once wrestled. Liberty is perhaps the premier academic institution of the religious right, and Cruz's choice of venue sends a clear message that he's trying to position himself in 2016 Republican field as a social conservative crusader—and that he's counting on evangelicals for support.
But Liberty University and its controversial founder have additional significance to the 2016 presidential race. During the 1990s, the anti-gay pastor did more than anyone to popularize the so-called "Clinton Body Count"—the notion that Bill and Hillary Clinton had been responsible for dozens of murders during and after their time in Arkansas. This conspiracy theory was the centerpiece of a 1994 film called the Clinton Chronicles, which Falwell helped distribute to hundreds of thousands of conservatives across the country.
Despite Falwell's best efforts, though, President Bill Clinton won his 1996 re-election campaign, and the episode helped reinforce the pastor's reputation as a bigoted crank. Republican candidates will find it hard to avoid Falwell's institution as the 2016 campaign heats up. We'll see if they've learned from his mistakes, too, when it comes to taking on the Clinton political machine.
On Tuesday, I reported on the newly public diary of retired Sen. Dale Bumpers (D-Ark.), the longtime Clinton ally, which is included in the 89-year-old's personal papers at the University of Arkansas. In entries penned during the 1980s, Bumpers was highly critical of the Clintons, dishing on the future First Couple's "obsessive" qualities and alleged "dirty tricks" by Bill Clinton's gubernatorial campaign. Bumpers, who gave the closing argument for the defense in President Clinton's impeachment trial, became a close friend and confidante of the president later in his career. But the previously unreported entries revealed a more tense relationship in the early going, as Clinton vied for political elbow room with the Democratic icon.
In response to the Mother Jones piece, the University of Arkansas library has pulled the diary from its collection at the request of Bumpers' son, Brent. Per the Arkansas Democrat–Gazette:
Brent Bumpers of Little Rock, son of the former senator, said he was "shocked" by the diary. He has questioned its origin and authenticity, saying nobody in the family had ever heard anything about Dale Bumpers keeping a dairy.
Brent Bumpers said his father, who is 89 years old, doesn't remember keeping a diary. He said Dale Bumpers always admired the Clintons and wouldn't have written the things the diary contains.
Brent Bumpers said he wants to review the diary, but he won't have the opportunity for several days.
Although Dale Bumpers hasn't personally requested that the diary be pulled, Laura Jacobs, UA associate vice chancellor for university relations, said Brent Bumpers is speaking and acting on behalf of his father regarding the Dale Bumpers Papers.
But the Bumpers diary could not have been written by anyone but Dale Bumpers. When not commenting on the various politicians he interacted with, it is filled with personal musings on his wife, Betty, and three kids; the strains of the job; can't-miss events such as the annual Bradley County Pink Tomato Festival; and the trials of a first-time candidate at an Iowa presidential cattle call—all interspersed with the thoughtful reflections of a lawmaker who was generally regarded as such.
This is the second time in the last year that the University of Arkansas has made news by restricting access to a political archive in its special collections. Last year, the university's library blocked the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative news outlet, from accessing its collections because of a dispute over publishing rights. (The library ultimately backed down.)
With Hillary Clinton and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush both running for president, reporters (and opposition researchers) will have more access to archival records than perhaps ever before. The two candidates have nearly a century of public life between them; that's a heck of a paper trail. This may not be the last time a little-noticed archive makes news.
A copy of Contingencies—the official magazine of the American Academy of Actuaries—came in the mail on Monday. I don't know why—I'm not an actuary; I'm not even in a celebrity death pool. But there's some interesting stuff in there. AAA president Mary D. Miller, in a column titled "It Takes an Actuary," boasts that "our world will be more vital than ever" in the era of drones and Big Data, as people find more and more innovative ways to die; the puzzle columnist is retiring.
With the legalization movement racking up victory after victory, the writer, Hank George, seeks to correct a misunderstanding among his actuarial colleagues—that marijuana "conferred the same relative mortality risk as cigarette smoking." To the contrary, he writes, "recreational marijuana users enjoy better physical fitness and get more exercise than nonusers" and "have even been shown to have higher IQs." He concludes: "The tide is turning—life underwriters would be wise to be at the front end of this curve, and not stubbornly digging in their heels to the detriment of their products."
For now, at least, life insurers are still holding the line on pot smoke as a vice on par with cigarettes. But it's a testament to how far the legalization movement has grown beyond its hippie roots that even the actuaries are starting to fall in line.