Mojo - April 2011

Will GOPers Forgive Trump for His Big Dem Donations?

| Mon Apr. 18, 2011 3:06 AM EDT

Donald Trump, the would-be Republican presidential candidate, is on a roll lately. Most notably, a recent CNN poll put the New York real estate tycoon atop the field of Republican hopefuls, including former governors Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty. But the longer Trump sticks around, the more voters learn about Trump's past—which, from the looks of it, will only hurt his presidential odds.

I reported last week, for instance, that while Trump currently opposes domestic partner benefits for gay couples, he publicly supported them in a 1999 interview with The Advocate, a leading magazine on gay issues. In that interview, Trump, who was then flirting with a presidential run on the Reform Party ticket, also called for stronger protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and said gays would be free to serve in a Trump administration. It's those kinds of positions, said Dave Peterson, an Iowa State political science professor, "that are going to do him in" with Iowa voters.

For Trump it gets worse. As a Center for Responsive Politics analysis revealed, Trump has a history of donating to Democrats. In the past 20 years, six of the top ten recipients of Trump cash were Dems. They include Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) and Sens. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Harry Reid (D-Nev.), and New York's two Democratic senators, Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer.

Here's more the Center for Responsive Politics' analysis:

Trump has also supported other notable politicians, including:

  • $7,000 to former Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), the "liberal lion of the Senate"
  • $7,500 to former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani (R)
  • $5,500 to Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) including $2,000 during his 2004 presidential run
  • $5,000 to former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.)
  • $4,000 to former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD)
  • $2,000 to former President George W. Bush (R)
  • $1,000 to then-Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.)

Trump's donations to various political action committees and 527 groups also demonstrate his bipartisan checkbook.

During the most recent election cycle, Trump contributed $170,000 to the Republican Governor's Association, $50,000 to the ultra-conservative American Crossroads PAC, $30,400 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and $10,000 to the Democratic Party of New York.

However, of the nearly $420,000 Trump has donated to committees, the largest recipient has been the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee with $116,000—or more than one fourth of his total contributions to all party and political action committees.

If Trump is indeed serious about running in 2012 (which remains to be seen), the big question is whether conservatives will forgive him for his past positions and donations to Democrats. I wouldn't bet on it.

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WATCH: Andrew Breitbart to Wisconsin Labor Activists: "Go to Hell"

| Mon Apr. 18, 2011 3:06 AM EDT

On Saturday, right-wing luminaries Sarah Palin and Andrew Breitbart headlined a rally in Madison, Wisconsin, attended by "hundreds" of tea partiers and conservatives that was billed as a push-back against the months of progressive, pro-labor demonstrations at Wisconsin's State Capitol. Bundled up against the wind and snow, Palin defended Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker and his anti-union legislation. "He's trying to save your jobs and your pensions!" she said. "Your governor did the right thing and you won!"

But it was right-wing provocateur Andrew Breitbart, you could argue, who stole the show. At one point, Breitbart called the tea party "the most peaceful, law-abiding, clean-up-after-themselves group in the history of American protest," a statement met with cheers from supporters and boos from the labor activists who'd surrounded the crowd of tea party faithful. Then Breitbart pointed to those labor folks and condemned them as uncivil, verbally abusive, and liars.

Breitbart's message to them, he went on, was simple: "Go to hell. No serious. Go to hell. Go to hell."

Here's the video:

Because, of course, there's nothing hypocritical about describing a movement as uncivil and then blithely telling it to go to hell.

Apart from the vitriol, Saturday's rally made little splash on the national stage, unlike the massive pro-labor protests, attended by more than 100,000, which gripped the country for nearly a month this winter as unions and progressive groups defended the rights of public workers in the Badger State.

For the time being, the fight over the fate of public-sector unions in Wisconsin remains undecided. Walker's anti-union "budget repair" is in legal limbo, after being successfully challenged by a county district attorney. The Wisconsin Supreme Court is expected to decide the bill's fate in the coming weeks.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for April 18, 2011

Mon Apr. 18, 2011 2:30 AM EDT

U.S. Soldiers with 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division return fire during a firefight with Taliban forces in Barawala Kalay Valley in Kunar province, Afghanistan, March 31, 2011. U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Cameron Boyd/Released

Rising Dem Opposition to Key Part of Obama’s Deficit Plan

| Fri Apr. 15, 2011 12:45 PM EDT

When President Barack Obama delivered his big deficit speech this week, he didn't offer many details. But when it came to savings in the health-care sector, the president made an exception, and got into the nitty gritty. Stressing the urgency of reining in health-care costs—the single biggest driver of government spending—Obama vowed to build upon the cost-containment measures in the Affordable Care Act, the landmark health reform bill he signed last year. One key feature of the new law is an independent Medicare panel that will have new authority to set payment rates and evaluate health-care spending. In his speech, Obama promised to slow the growth of Medicare costs even further by strengthening the authority of the panel, known as the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB).

Unfortunately for the president, the Medicare panel is also one of the most widely misunderstood and reviled parts of health-care reform. Republicans have already launched an effort to repeal the commission, dubbing it the new "death panel." What’s more, a growing number of Democrats are joining their effort to kill the panel, putting another thorn in Obama’s side.

Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-Pa.) recently became the latest Democrat to sign onto the House Republicans' IPAB repeal bill. As Politico reports, the conservative Blue Dog New Dem* is "the most high-profile Democrat yet" to join the GOP's effort to scrap the payment board. While Republicans have slammed the panel for allowing faceless bureaucrats to "ration" care, Democratic opponents have taken a different tack—they criticize the panel for having the authority to bypass Congress. "Abdicating this responsibility, whether to insurance companies or an unelected commission, would undermine our ability to represent the needs of the seniors and disabled in our communities," Schwartz wrote in a letter explaining her position.

Schwartz has now becoming the third House Democrat to support the Republican IPAB repeal effort: she joins Rep. Michael Capuano (D-Mass.), a member of the Progressive Caucus, and Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.), a centrist New Democrat who's now running for Senate. The Medicare panel was never popular among House Dems, who refused to include it in their version of the health-care bill, with opposition coming from both liberal and conservative flanks of the party. 

So while Obama want to strengthen IPAB to bring down the deficit, members of his own party want to dismantle it altogether. The lack of Democratic unity behind this central pillar of Obama's plan reveals just how difficult it will be to reduce the deficit in any meaningful way. 

*This has been corrected. Sorry.

Pawlenty's Tea Party Play

| Fri Apr. 15, 2011 10:40 AM EDT

Will the tea party embrace Tim Pawlenty? Head to Boston today to find out. The former governor of Minnesota and all-but-declared presidential contender is headlining a tea party rally there this afternoon, where he's likely to demagogue against the just-passed budget deal while burnishing his anti-tax, small government bona fides. But it's far from certain whether his record will stand up to tea party scrutiny.

R.T. Rybak sure doesn't think it will. Rybak's the Democratic mayor of Minneapolis, and was in office during the Pawlenty years. On a conference call with reporters yesterday, Rybak slammed Pawlenty's self-engineered reputation as tax slashing, job-creating governor. According to Rybak, Pawlenty's claim that he never raised taxes on Minnesotans just isn't true. Among other things, he pointed to Pawlenty's cuts to local government aid—to the tune of $2.7 billion—that forced mayors across the state to gut health and human services programs and hike property taxes. As a result of Pawlenty's cuts, property taxes across the state went up 65 percent. "If the tea party really knew how much Tim Pawlenty raised taxes in Minnesota, they would throw him in Boston Harbor," Rybak said.

Pawlenty shrugs off any responsibility for those tax increases, but he could have a tougher time explaining away his decision to accept federal stimulus dollars, and the "health impact fee"—a tax—on cigarettes he signed into law in 2005. In the end, taxes went up for 90 percent of Minnesotans under Pawlenty. His economic strategy, Rybak said, was simple: "If you lower taxes on the highest earners, and you gave targeted tax breaks to a few lucky companies, it would create more jobs… If the tea party wants taxes to go down, they've got the wrong guy."

Even Pawlenty's own recently hired pollster, Jon Lerner, acknowledged some unspecified "bad marks" on his record, perhaps referring to the $5 billion budget deficit Pawlenty left behind.

So will the tea party buy what Pawlenty's selling? He better hope so. With few legislative accomplishments to flaunt and a still-forming national profile, Pawlenty could use a strong showing today in Mitt Romney's backyard.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for April 15, 2011

Fri Apr. 15, 2011 4:30 AM EDT

U.S. Army Pfc. Ryan Warner, Company D, 1st Platoon, 1st Battalion, 181st Infantry Regiment of the Massachusetts National Guard security forces member from Hudson, Mass., secures an area during a visit to Bala Hissar Citadel in Ghazni City, Afghanistan, by the Hayward-Ghazni Sister City Committee March 29. Photo via US Army.

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The Tea Party's 2012 Hit List

| Fri Apr. 15, 2011 2:01 AM EDT

Ever since lawmakers hammered out a budget compromise at the zero hour last week, furious tea party leaders have been working the media circuit and threatening to "primary" the Republican traitors who voted for the deal. But is it all talk?

Last week, Tea Party Nation's Judson Phillips claimed activists will try to pick off House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). And Mark Meckler, a national coordinator for the Tea Party Patriots, tells The Hill that activists are already recruiting candidates to challenge sitting GOP House members who voted to keep the government open for business:

"I'm literally getting emails by the hour from people talking about primary challenges," Meckler told The Ballot Box, adding that opposition to the deal among grassroots conservatives has been building all week...

"I'm hearing it from just about every district where someone voted yes [on the deal]," he said of the potential targets. "It's a pretty easy list, actually. All you have to do is look at the roll call."

Based on these parameters the tea party will ostensibly be gunning for some of the very people they worked so hard to put into office in November. That includes Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.), who spoke at a Tea Party Patriots "continuing revolution" protest on Capitol Hill just a few days before the budget vote, and voted for the deal.

What about budget hawk and man of the hour Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.)? He voted for the deal. Will tea partiers try to primary the lawmaker who put the deficit on the congressional map this year? Then there's tea party favorite Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), an arch conservative who many conservative activists consider an ideal presidential contendor. He, too, voted for the budget compromise, along with other conservative luminaries including Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), tea party upstart Rep. Vicky Hartlzer (R-Mo.), and Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), the tea party's favorite doctor in the House during the health care fight.

Meckler also didn't say whether he would be organizing a primary challenge to his own home district congressman, Rep. Tom McClintock, who is probably the most right-wing member of the California delegation. Meckler is reportedly tight with McClintock, a frequent speaker at local tea party rallies in Nevada County, California, where Meckler lives. Yep, McClintock also voted for the budget bill.

For tea partiers, making good on their primary threats will require attacking many of the congressional lawmakers who actually listen to them. In doing so, conservative activists risk losing what little ground they've gained in Washington. 

Ultimately, the primary threats seem as much about publicity as political activism. Threats to target Boehner got Tea Party Nation's Phillips on Glenn Beck's show this week, even though he would be hard pressed to organize a well-attended rally much less a primary challenge. Despite Meckler's claims that tea partiers are enraged by the recent budget deal, that anger largely seems to be manifesting itself during Meckler's cable appearances. When his group held a protest over the budget bills in DC at the end of March, only a handful of tea partiers showed up. The event paled in comparison to the mega-rallies organized during the health care debate

The lack of visible signs of mass anger is no surprise. After all, the budget deal struck last week was a huge win for the tea party, and one that came on the heels of significant electoral successes during the midterm election. But if tea party leaders actually declared victory and dialed down the outrage, they might find their movement on the path to irrelevance. So perhaps their strategy is just to keep on shouting and issuing threats, even if they're empty ones.

Arizona GOP to Obama: Show Us Your Circumcision Certificate

| Fri Apr. 15, 2011 2:01 AM EDT

Thinking of running for president, but can't find a copy of your long-form birth certificate? No problem, say Arizona GOPers. Just be prepared to provide a description of your penis.

The state's birther bill, which had until recently been sidelined, cruised through the state Senate on a 20-to-9 party line vote Wednesday and was passed by the state House late Thursday. It's now awaiting the signature of Arizona's Republican Governor Jan Brewer. The bill, resurrected late last month with some minor changes, requires presidential candidates to provide a valid long-form birth certificate before they can appear on the ballot in Arizona. Because not all states even produce such records anymore, the bill allows prospective candidates to provide any two of the following documents in lieu of a long-form birth certificate: an "early census record," a signed post-partum medical record, a hospital birth record (also known as a certificate of live birth), or a baptismal or circumcision certificate.

That's right: Arizona Republicans want you to provide proof that you've been circumcised; it makes the "boxers and briefs" question look downright prudish. But a warning for overzealous candidates: As the Phoenix New Times helpfully notes, "Pulling out your penis in front of election officials, however, will not prove citizenship—and, in the worst case scenario, could get [you] labeled a sex offender." Rules to live by.

As we first reported in January, Arizona's bill was inspired by conservative activists who believe President Obama is not an American citizen by birth (for the millionth time: he is). To that end, potential GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump, who recently jumped on the birther bandwagon, called Arizona legislators this week  to voice his support for the measure, and invited the bill's supporters to a meeting at his Manhattan office. More than a dozen states have now considered legislation to require presidential candidates to verify their citizenship, but Arizona's bill is the first to clear a state legislature. If enacted, Democrats say the law would face a legal challenge.

Republicans talk a lot about the need to make tough, painful cuts. We just didn't know this is what they had in mind.

Why Did Jihadists Kill My Friend?

| Thu Apr. 14, 2011 4:37 PM EDT
Vittorio Arrigoni on a trip with Palestinian fishermen facing Israeli gunboats and water cannons.

The jihadist militants in Gaza who kidnapped and murdered Italian journalist and human rights activist Vittorio Arrigoni could not have killed a more steadfast champion of freedom and justice for Palestinians.

I met Vittorio, known to his friends as Vik, during my first week of freelance reporting in Gaza last year for publications including The Nation, GlobalPost, and Jerusalem Post Magazine. Vik graciously offered to show me around. The first time we met, he recounted the Israeli army assaults that he'd witnessed, and advised me on humanitarian stories that I might cover in Gaza. He brought along his laptop, and offered to let me use his pictures and videos. He took deep puffs from his pipe as he told me about the things he'd seen, including the time he saw a friend of his killed in an Israeli airstrike. I remember feeling awed by his determination to perservere despite his grief.

Vik was a member of the International Solidarity Movement, the group to which 23-year-old American activist Rachel Corrie belonged when she was killed in 2003 while seeking to stop an Israeli bulldozer from destroying a Palestinian home. He'd come to Gaza three years ago as part of a 2008 flotilla mission that aimed to deliver humanitarian supplies to Gaza in violation of an Israeli blockade. (This was before last year's flotilla tragedy, in which Israeli commandos seeking to stop the ships killed nine activists.)

He was among a handful of foreigners present in Gaza during Israel's 2008 / 2009 invasion—he called it a "life-changing trauma." During the invasion, Vik rode with ambulances to document civilian casualities; he took photographs of bomb wreckage, including many photos of dead children. Vik said that the ambulance workers, 22 of whom were ultimately killed during the war, were the most courageous people he'd ever met. I would say the same about Vik.

Vittorio Arrigoni talks with Gazan children in this undated photo.: Courtesy Vittorio ArrigoniVittorio Arrigoni talks with Gazan children in this undated photo. Courtesy Target Productions

Last year, Vik published a book about the invasion, called Gaza Stay Human. He was working on a new book about the humanitarian crisis caused by the blockade.

To get out the word about the plight of Gazan civilians, Vik shot many videos. One shows an Israeli gunboat shooting water cannons and live ammunition at Palestinian fishermen.  Another shows a Palestinian farmer getting shot in the leg by Israeli soldiers while tending to wheat fields near or in the Israel-imposed "no-go zone." (Israeli troops shot live ammunition at anyone who enters this unmarked 300 meter zone along the Gaza side of the border.)

Obama Leaves House Dems Out in the Cold. Should He?

| Thu Apr. 14, 2011 11:46 AM EDT

President Obama has to pull off a tricky balancing act in his 2012 re-election fight: wooing independents without alienating his liberal base. His strategy was on full display this week as he dove into the battle over the deficit. On the one hand, Obama embraced the Republican idea that cutting the deficit should be a top priority—falling into a trap that the House GOP set last week when it rolled out Rep. Paul Ryan's drastic budget proposal. On the other hand, Obama tacked left in his speech on Wednesday by making a vigorous defense of government entitlements and insisting that savings must come from elsewhere.

There's one group, though, that doesn't seem to be playing a big part in Obama’s strategy: Congressional Democrats, particularly House Dems who've been sidelined in the minority. Obama is charging ahead with his deficit message this week without so much as giving a heads up to his allies in Congress. House Leader Nancy Pelosi—who’s been persona non grata since the beginning of the new Congress—expressed her frustration to White House adviser Gene Sperling in a private meeting on Thursday. "Maybe you could consult with us just once," Pelosi told Sperling, according to Politico.

Other House Dems expressed similar sentiments after Obama surprised them with the news that he was planning a major speech on the deficit. "He sprung it on us," Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) told Mother Jones on Monday night. "When you're going into something like this, my view is that you want to have as many on your side as—I would have laid the groundwork a little."

Politically speaking, Obama seems to believe it's in his best interest to distance himself from Pelosi and House Democrats. They represent the more liberal wing of his party in Congress and made the final push to pass the still-unpopular Affordable Care Act. The president may believe that by keeping his distance, he can better control his image and gain the flexibility to shore up his liberal bona fides or tack to the center depending on the circumstances. 

But in bypassing Democratic leaders, Obama also runs the risk of ceding ground to Republicans in the few legislative deals that must be made before his re-election. House Democratic leaders have already been struggling to keep up with Obama's rope-a-dope, paying lip service to the decidedly centrist Bowles-Simpson deficit plan while distancing themselves from its most controversial elements.

Now the White House is planning to go over the head of Congress yet again by convening a working group to issue recommendations on the deficit, whose work will happen in the midst of the upcoming fight over the debt limit. Pelosi warned that pushing out such concrete proposals right before the vote could embolden Republicans to ask for major concessions in exchange for raising the debt limit. Such a sequence of events may help Obama win over centrist voters in 2012. But it could hurt Hill Democrats who need to pass legislation in 2011.