With 106 weeks until the next presidential election, speculating about a potential Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) candidacy is like going on a long car ride with a six-year-old. "Are you running?" No. "How about now?" No. "Now?" No. "Now?" No. "What about now?" No. "Are you running?" No. "Are you running?" [exasperated sigh] "Aha!"
But Warren does continue to do the things people who are considering a run for president tend to do—flying to Iowa to rally the troops on behalf of Rep. Bruce Braley, for instance, and going on tour to promote a campaign-style book. Her latest venture, a sit-down interview in the next issue of People magazine, isn't going to do much to quiet the speculation, even as she once more downplayed the prospect of a run:
[S]upporters are already lining up to back an "Elizabeth Warren for President" campaign in 2016. But is the freshman senator from Massachusetts herself on board with a run for the White House? Warren wrinkles her nose.
"I don't think so," she tells PEOPLE in an interview conducted at Warren's Cambridge, Massachusetts, home for this week's issue. "If there's any lesson I've learned in the last five years, it's don't be so sure about what lies ahead. There are amazing doors that could open."
She just doesn't see the door of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue being one of them. Not yet, anyway. "Right now," Warren says, "I'm focused on figuring out what else I can do from this spot" in the U.S. Senate.
"Amazing doors"; "I don't think"; "right now"—what does it all mean? Warren's not really saying anything we haven't heard from her before. But after then-Sen. Barack Obama's furious denials about running for president eight years ago, no one's ready to take "no" for an answer. At least not yet, anyway.
As a Texas state senator, Dan Patrick has conducted himself in a manner consistent with the shock jock he once was. Patrick—who is now the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor—has railed against everything from separation of church and state to Mexican coyotes who supposedly speak Urdu. He's even advised his followers that God is speaking to them through Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson.
A former sportscaster who once defended a football player who'd thrown a reporter through a door (Patrick believed it wasn't the journalist's job to do "negative reporting"), Patrick became a conservative talk radio host in the early 1990s—Houston's answer to Rush Limbaugh. In 2006, he parlayed his radio fame into a state Senate seat—and kept the talk show going. In office, he proposed paying women $500 to turn over newborn babies to the state (to reduce abortions), led the charge against creeping liberalism in state textbooks, and pushed wave after wave of new abortion restrictions. For his efforts, Texas Monthlynamed Patrick one of the worst legislators of 2013.
With a victory on November 4, Patrick, who is leading Democratic state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte in the polls, would find himself next in line for the governor's mansion of the nation's second-largest state. (Rick Perry, the current Republican governor, was previously lieutenant governor.) But even if Patrick advances no further, he'd be in a position to shape public policy—Texas' lieutenant governor is sometimes called the "most powerful office in Texas" because of the influence it has on both the legislative and executive branches.
Here are a few of Patrick's greatest hits:
On Islam: Patrick walked out of the Senate chamber in 2007 rather than listen to a Muslim deliver the opening prayer. "I think that it's important that we are tolerant as a people of all faiths, but that doesn't mean we have to endorse all faiths, and that was my decision," he told the Houston Chronicle. "I surely believe that everyone should have the right to speak, but I didn't want my attendance on the floor to appear that I was endorsing that."
Five years later, he did it again. "We are a nation that allows a Muslim to come in with a Koran but does not allow a Christian to take a Bible to school," Patrick explained, after walking out on another prayer, delivered this time by Imam Yusuf Kavacki. "We are a Judeo-Christian nation, primarily a Christian nation."
On the border: "While ISIS terrorists threaten to cross our border and kill Americans, my opponent falsely attacks me to hide her failed record on illegal immigration," he says in his first general-election campaign. Patrick's website, meanwhile, warns that Pakistanis are crossing the border as well, presumably to do bad things to Americans. "This is an Urdu dictionary found by border volunteers that was dropped by a human smuggler," Patrick writes beneath a photo of an Urdu-English dictionary. "It is concerning that Mexican coyotes are learning Urdu in order to smuggle illegal immigrants?" [sic]
On migrants: "They are bringing Third World diseases with them," he said in 2006, warning that immigrants could bring leprosy and polio to Texas. (This was news to Texas public health officials.) Patrick hired an undocumented worker when he ran a Houston sports bar, and when the worker revealed last spring that he had talked candidly with Patrick about his situation, the candidate insisted: "The worker says I was personally very kind to him and goes on to allege other preposterous events that are not true and for which he offers no evidence."
On his first book, actually titled The Second Most Important Book You Will Ever Read: "As the author, I am obviously biased," Patrick wrote in an Amazon review of his own book. But "since God inspired me to write this book," he added, "He automatically gets 5 stars and the CREDIT!'"
On squashing Wendy Davis' filibuster: Patrick told Mike Huckabee he had a Christian obligation to ignore Senate rules if the lives of fetuses were at risk. "I spoke to my colleagues and said, 'When Jesus criticized the Pharisees, he criticized them because their laws and their rules were more important than actually taking care of people,'" he said. "And in my view, stopping a debate to save thousands of lives, well, saving the thousands of lives is more important than our tradition of, well, you should never stop someone. I said, 'Well, are we gonna become the modern-day Pharisees as Republicans of the Senate and just let her talk this bill to death and thousands that could have been saved a horrendous death and also improving health care?'"
On Connie Chung's TV show, Eye to Eye: Patrick quipped in 1992 that the Asian American journalist's show should be called "Slanted Eye to Eye." Although Patrick's remarks sparked a local media firestorm, he did not change his ways. In 1999, a Houston Press profile noted that "Patrick lapsed into a faux-Chinese accent when he thought he heard a network correspondent call Clinton, in the midst of the Chinese-espionage scandal, 'President Crinton,'" and later joked that Clinton should get surgery to "make his eyes slanted."
On MTV: Patrick issued a call to arms against the cable channel in 2004, in an online bulletin:
STAND UP AND FIGHT BACK AGAINST MTV…LET'S TURN OFF MTV IN HOUSTON....JUST TAKE YOUR REMOTE AND GO TO DELETE CHANNELS....DELETE MTV AND CHANGE THE PASSWORD SO YOUR KIDS CAN'T WATCH....STAND UP TO YOUR KIDS...THEY WON'T BE HAPPY,BUT YOU MUST HOLD FIRM.... DO YOU WANT YOUR SONS AND ESPECIALLY YOUR DAUGHTERS EXPOSED TO THIS CONSTANT BARRAGE OF ATTACKS ON YOUR VALUES........THEN SCROLL BELOW AND CONTACT THE NFL AND CBS....ALSO CONTACT YOUR CONGRESSMAN AND SENATOR AND DEMAND THAT THE FCC GET TOUGH WITH THOSE WHO WANT TO COME INTO YOUR HOME AND DESTROY YOUR FAMILY VALUES
On creationism: "Our students…must really be confused," Patrick said at a GOP primary debate last spring. "They go to Sunday School on Sunday and then they go into school on Monday and we tell them they can't talk about God. I'm sick and tired of a minority in our country who want us to turn our back on God."
On Duck Dynasty: Patrick tried to raise money off of Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson's comments about homosexuality in GQ,boasting that the bearded reality star was channeling another bearded visionary."This is an exciting time for Christians," he wrote on Facebook. "God is speaking to us from the most unlikely voice, Phil Robertson, about God's Word. God is using pop culture and a highly successful cable TV show to remind us about His teaching."
On his inspiration for this painting of Christ's face on the Statue of Liberty:
In teaching myself how to watercolor I was trying different styles. After a beach scene, I decided to try a Peter Max type of painting of the Statue of Liberty. I could not get the fact right and used water to remove the paint on her face. When it dried and I tried to clean it up suddently [sic] the face of Jesus appeared so clearly. It struck me that Jesus face on the Statue of Liberty sends an incredible message that the real light that our country has sent in the past, and needs to send once again today, is we are a nation that stands on His Word This was only my 4th try at a painting I had no idea of how to paint the face of Jesus, nor was I trying to do so.
On film: "A very popular movie starring Mel Gibson, Signs, has a theme dealing with the concept of coincidence," Patrick wrote in his book. "If you haven't seen it, it's a terrific flick (albeit a little scary). I recommend it."
If Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) do battle for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, they'll have to carefully manage their most popular yet embarrassing surrogates: their fathers. Here's a quick guide to the septuagenarian bomb-throwers.
We need an Ebola czar, apparently. It "may make sense," President Barack Obama announced on Thursday night. Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) agreed, calling on the administration to appoint someone like Colin Powell to manage the response to the deadly virus in the United States—five years after pushing legislation that would have prohibited the White House from appointing such czars. If it's a czar they want, it's a czar they must have. By Friday morning, we'd seen the white smoke: the President tapped Ron Klain, Vice President Joe Biden's former chief of staff, to head the response.
But are czars any better than anyone else at responding to and containing outbreaks of infectious disease? If history is a guide, probably not:
Ivan the Terrible: Kind of incompetent, as the name suggests. When the bubonic plague killed 10,000 people in the city of Novgorod, triggering civil unrest, Ivan responded by sending his vicious secret police, the Oprichniki, to burn down the town and kill the inhabitants. Yikes.
Catherine the Great: Although more popular than Ivan and largely successful in her aim of expanding the empire's land holdings, Russia's greatest czar was helpless in the face of the plague of 1771. Dissatisfaction with Catherine's handling of the outbreak, which killed more people in Moscow than the Black Death, resulted in the Moscow Plague Riot of 1771, during which time protesters assassinated an archbishop in the Russian Orthodox Church.
Peter the Great: A real can-do spirit—just look at that mustache! When his soldiers contracted plague during a campaign in the Baltic, Peter ordered them to fall back and then took aggressive measures to prevent a full-fledged outbreak. "Unlike earlier outbreaks, when no medical assistance had been provided, Peter took a more active view and sent Dr. Christian Wiel to supervise anti-plague measures," wrote John T. Alexander, in his comprehensive study, Bubonic Plague in Early Modern Russia: Public Health and Urban Disaster. Historians credit Peter with nationalizing the response to disease outbreaks and investing new resources in medical institutions. But that didn't stop the disease from spreading east.
Nicholas II: Nicholas is known mostly for being deposed during the Russian Revolution, but before he was executed he also proved himself largely incapable of responding to a string of cholera epidemics in the city of Saratov, even after a similar outbreak in the city during the Crimean War less than two decades earlier. The historian Charlotte Henze noted "huge gaps between the legislation of public health measures and their actual implementation."
Oh no he didn't! KHSB Kansas City reported on Wednesday that Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) skipped a Senate hearing on the Ebola virus last month, even while attempting to use the West African epidemic as a campaign wedge issue. This is part of a trend. On Monday, the Topeka Capital-Journalreported that Roberts had also "skipped the committee's hearings on avian flu in 2005 and 2006," but "did author a newspaper editorial in 2005 explaining why he was taking 'the threat of the bird flu very seriously.'"
The attack cuts across party lines. In July, the conservative Concerned Veterans for America released an ad attacking Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa), who is running for Senate, for skipping 76 percent of his full committee meetings. In North Carolina, Republican Thom Tillis attacked Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan for missing a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on ISIS. "While ISIS grew, Obama did nothing—Sen. Hagan did cocktails," one ad warned. (Note: "Doing cocktails" is not a thing; cocktails are not cocaine.) In New Hampshire, former GOP Sen. Scott Brown hit Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen for missing a hearing on ISIS. Shaheen, in turn, hit Brown for missing hearings on border security.
If only any of it mattered.
There's much to criticize about Roberts, who broke his own term limits pledge and has largely forsaken Kansas to establish permanent residence in Northern Virginia. But when it comes to committee attendance, he's hardly an outlier—drop by a congressional hearing sometime and see for yourself. And maybe that's not such a bad thing. The hearings candidates are hammered for skipping are long, tedious, redundant, and anachronistic. Far from a roll-up-your-sleeves exercise in cross-examination and investigation, the Washington committee hearing boils down to a simple ritual. Members of Congress are given a short amount of time to demonstrate their understanding of an issue, produce a compelling sound bite for the folks back home, and move the conversation forward with a question.
As a result, the hearing room isn't where business gets done in Washington; it's just where members go to grandstand. (They even let Steve Stockman talk at these things.) Hearings' subject matter reflects this. The 2012 attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, which has become a rallying cry on the right, has been the subject of 13 hearings, and an elephant in the room at countless others. That House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing Braley was hammered for skipping? He missed it to attend a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing…on Fast and Furious, another favorite subject of the fever swamps. Without Hermione Granger's time-turner, it would have been difficult to attend both.
But behind these political hits is a certain dishonesty. If Roberts (or Braley or Brown or Hagan or Shaheen, for that matter) is half as bumbling and incompetent as his opponents make him out to be, the last thing he should be doing is meddling in the affairs of government. Senator, get thee to a fundraiser!