Tim Murphy

Tim Murphy

Reporter

Tim Murphy is a reporter in MoJo's DC bureau. Last summer he logged 22,000 miles while blogging about his cross-country road trip for Mother Jones. His writing has been featured in Slate and the Washington Monthly. Email him with tips and insights at tmurphy [at] motherjones [dot] com.

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At First Debate, Scott Brown Gets Nasty

| Fri Sep. 21, 2012 10:52 AM EDT

If you hadn't been following the Massachusetts Senate race closely, the attack seemed to come out of nowhere: At Thursday night's Massachusetts Senate debate, Sen. Scott Brown (R) charged that Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren had represented the insurance giant Travelers in a case against asbestos victims. Far from being an advocate for the little guy, Brown argued, Warren was nothing more than a money-hungry corporate lawyer. If Brown's criticism of Warren's Native American ancestry was a not-so-subtle challenge appeal to identity politics, this attack went straight to Warren's political core.

Except Brown is not telling the whole story about Warren and Travelers insurance. The Boston Globe explored the case—one of Warren's only forays into corporate law—in detail in May and found a much more complicated picture. Warren had signed on with Travelers because she feared that a bad outcome could overturn an important part of federal bankruptcy law she'd long advocated for. One group of asbestos victims did oppose Warren and Travelers. But another, much larger group of asbestos victims were on the side of Warren and the insurance company. That's because Warren believed she was securing a $500 million settlement from the insurance company on behalf of the asbestos victims.

That's not how it turned out. After Warren, Travelers, and the largest group of asbestos victims won their Supreme Court case, Travelers reneged on its end of the deal and never paid out the $500 million settlement. Here's how the Globe's Noah Bierman explained it:

Though some asbestos victims still objected to the Travelers settlement, another larger group of victims was on the same side as the insurer - at least during this portion of the case - in seeking to have the settlement upheld.

The Supreme Court decision gave Travelers a victory, validating the legality of the 1986 agreement and the immunity it provided. But it left to the lower courts to decide whether Chubb [another insurance company] had a right to challenge the 2004 settlement.

That triggered another series of legal arguments that ultimately unraveled the $500 million settlement, leaving Travelers with permanent immunity from most asbestos lawsuits without having to pay the victims.

It turned out pretty badly! But it's not clear why that would make Warren a sell-out, as Brown suggests.

The beauty of this charge for Brown, though, is it's an incredibly easy charge to level and a complicated one to explain—which is why you should expect to hear a lot more of it. And true to form, on Friday, in his first remarks following the debate, Brown held a press conference to hammer home the Travelers narrative.

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Bachmann Ads Blast Stimulus, Tout Stimulus Projects

| Thu Sep. 20, 2012 3:45 PM EDT
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.)

Rep. Michele Bachmann is in trouble. Despite the fact that her newly redrawn Minnesota congressional district is even more conservative than it was when she was re-elected by 12 points two years ago, a recent internal poll shows the tea party icon leading Democratic hotel magnate Jim Graves by just two points. With that in mind, she's on the airwaves with her first television and radio ads of the cycle. The television spot is an extended dig at Graves' support for the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. As the narrator puts it, "Big spendin' Jim supported the wasteful, trillion-dollar stimulus!"

The stimulus wasn't $1 trillion as the ad suggests; it was $831 billion. But that's not what's interesting. In a radio ad, Bachmann takes a much different approach. As Dump Bachmann points out, most of the ad's 60 seconds is spent discussing all of the awesome things that have been built in her district because of federal funding Bachmann helped secure. The kicker: Bachmann sought hundreds of millions of dollars in stimulus funding for one of the projects she touts in her ad, and another project was completed thanks to an ARRA grant.

"Congressman Bachmann helped re-open the St. Cloud airport," one narrator says. "Working together with local leaders, Michele helped save the airport and keep our area open for business and commerce." The St. Cloud airport, which had been shuttered for a few years after a major carrier left, did reopen for commercial flights in 2012. But it had some help from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that Bachmann voted against and knocks Graves for supporting. As the Freedom Foundation of Minnesota, a conservative group, noted, "St. Cloud received $750,000 in federal stimulus funding to assist with a portion of the renovation..." With Bachmann's help, it received another $750,000 through a Small Community Air Service Development Program grant—this despite being panned as wasteful by conservatives in Bachmann's own state.

Bachmann's signature legislative accomplishment, which is likewise touted in the ad, is the congressional authorization of a new bridge connecting her hometown of Stillwater to Houlton, Wisconsin, pop. 386. (Critics have compared the proposed bridge to the infamous "Bridge to Nowhere," noting that Stillwater and Houlton are already connected by a bridge, and there's an interstate bridge 10 minutes south.) As the ad puts it, "Michele worked with both parties to cut Washington's red tape to build the new St. Croix bridge. Once built, Michele will have helped every person using the bridge to get to work and to school and to get home." Bachmann sought $300 million in federal stimulus funding for the the new bridge, which has a $700 million price tag. The project was one of six projects Bachmann wrote to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to request funding for (her request was denied).

But lest you think Bachmann has undergone some sort of miracle transformation, here's an excerpt from a fundraising email she just blasted out:

In 10 days, we must close our financial books and report our fundraising numbers and, unfortunately, we are still short of our fundraising goals by more than $376,000. This is a deficit that we MUST overcome—in the face of senseless attacks from a ruthless opponent, we can't afford to leave any stone unturned.

Senseless!

Romney Cracks Warren Joke at Secret Fundraiser

| Wed Sep. 19, 2012 1:17 PM EDT

Mitt Romney made light of his father's Mexican roots in a secretly recorded video in Florida, joking that if he were Latino, his path to 270 electoral votes would be a lot easier. But it turns out that the Mexican joke was just a lead-in to a riff about Massachusetts Democratic Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren, the former Obama adviser and Harvard Law School professor who's taking on Sen. Scott Brown this fall. Warren, you may recall, found herself in a bit of trouble this spring when the Boston Herald reported that she had identified herself to her Harvard employers as Native American. Romney, speaking in May as the story was unraveling, had some fun at her expense:

ROMNEY: My dad you probably know was the governor of Michigan and was the head of a car company, but he was born in Mexico. And had he been born of Mexican parents, I'd have a better shot of winning this, but he was unfortunately born to Americans living in Mexico and he lived there for a number of years. I mean I say that jokingly, but it'd be helpful to be a Latino.

DONOR: Pull an Elizabeth Warren!

ROMNEY: That's right I could go out and say—for those who don't know Elizabeth Warren, she is the woman who's running for US Senate in Massachusetts who says that she is Cherokee, has put her application over the years that she is Cherokee, and Harvard put down that she's one of their minority faculty members. It turns out that at most that she's 1/32 Cherokee and even that can't be proven. So in any event, I can put down my dad was born in Mexico and leave it at that.

Watch:

 Warren and Brown will have their first debate on Thursday.

Romney's Secret Tape Reveals Obama Is a Democrat

| Wed Sep. 19, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

It took 24 hours, but Mitt Romney thinks he's found his way out of the massive hole he's dug himself. The GOP nominee appeared frazzled at a hastily scheduled, late-night press conference on Monday as he attempted to defend comments he'd made at a fundraiser disparaging 47 percent of Americans. So on Tuesday, Romney appeared on Fox News to try something new: A tape of his own. Romney told Neil Cavuto that the real scandalous recording released this week was a 1998 audio clip of then-Illinois state Senator Barack Obama explicitly endorsing the idea of using government to redistribute wealth. Here's what Obama said:

And my suggestion, I guess, would be that the trick—and this is one of the few areas where I think there are technical issues that have to be dealt with as opposed to just political issues—I think the trick is figuring out how do we structure government systems that pool resources and hence facilitate some redistribution. Because I actually believe in redistribution, at least at a certain level, to make sure everybody's got a shot.

Here's why Romney' argument is a dud: Everyone already knows this about President Obama. Conservatives have been saying the President is a redistributor since this time in 2008, when then-Sen. Obama told an Ohio plumber that his taxes policies would "spread the wealth." And he meant it. Obama has spent much of the last two years—and the presidential campaign—explaining why he believes affluent citizens should pay higher income taxes in order to help fund programs that often disproportionately benefit lower-income and middle-class cititizens. It's as if the Romney campaign had floated a 1998 video of Obama calling for an individual mandate for health insurance.

What makes the story even less compelling is that Republicans believe in redistributing wealth too. For instance, here's how the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities described Paul Ryan's 2011 budget:

[I]ts proposals would produce the largest redistribution of income from the bottom to the top in modern U.S. history, while increasing poverty and inequality more than any measure in recent times and possibly in the nation’s history.

Redistributing wealth is also the driving force behind Medicare, in which senior citizens, many of whom have stopped paying income taxes and have limited sources of income, benefit from a massive entitlement program funded by everyone else. Non-partisan budget analysis notwithstanding, Romney and Ryan have billed themselves as the defenders of Medicare when speaking to audiences of senior citizens.

The socialism is coming from inside the campaign!

The Obama audio is here:

Scott Brown Latest GOPer to Turn on Mitt's "47 Percent" Line

| Tue Sep. 18, 2012 4:06 PM EDT
Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.)

One of the first Democrats to knock Mitt Romney for his charge that 47 percent of Americans are "dependent" on the federal government was Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren, who told the Washington Post's Greg Sargent, "Romney just wrote off half the people in Massachusetts and half the people in America as deadbeats." Now Warren's Republican opponent, Sen. Scott Brown, has followed suit. Here's the statement he sent to The Hill on Tuesday:

"That's not the way I view the world. As someone who grew up in tough circumstances, I know that being on public assistance is not a spot that anyone wants to be in. Too many people today who want to work are being forced into public assistance for lack of jobs."

Brown's not the only Republican to back away from the remarks of the party's presidential nominee. Former wrestling executive Linda McMahon, who is running for Senate in Connecticut, said in a statement Tuesday that "I disagree with Gov. Romney's insinuation that 47 percent of Americans believe they are victims who must depend on the government for their care."

What makes Brown comments particularly noteworthy, though, is that he and Romney are both being advised by the same guy—GOP strategist Eric Fehrnstrom. (This isn't the first time Fehrstrom's candidates have been put in an awkward situation.)

One candidate who's not running from Romney's statements: Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin. So that ought to help.

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