Political MoJo

After GOP Implosion, Paul Ryan Says He's Willing to Be Speaker of the House

| Tue Oct. 20, 2015 7:32 PM EDT

After a week of speculation in Washington, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said for the first time on Tuesday that he would be willing to officially throw his hat in the ring for the position of House speaker, provided that all House Republicans support his candidacy.

The announcement comes less than two weeks after Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the House majority leader, withdrew his name from consideration for the post. McCarthy's exit came after a widely publicized gaffe, in which he admitted that the Benghazi committee was in part a smokescreen intended to damage Hillary Clinton's candidacy for president. Since then, Ryan has been the GOP favorite for the position. However, up until Tuesday he's insisted that he had no interest in the job.

To win the post, Ryan needs the approval of the House Freedom Caucus, the group of conservative House Republicans that helped force the resignation of John Boehner. Ryan met with the group on Tuesday. According to Politico reporter Jake Sherman, Ryan told the group that he wanted to know by the end of the week whether he would have the full caucus' support of his candidacy. He also suggested restructuring the position to be more about managing the party's message and less about fundraising.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and Rep. Daniel Webster (R-Fla.) have also announced their candidacy for the speaker post, but Chaffetz said in a tweet on Tuesday that, should Ryan run, he'll drop out of the race and throw his support behind Ryan.

Boehner had planned to leave his post at the end of this month but has said he'll stay on in the job until his successor is named. Adding to the pressure to quickly name a new speaker: Congress must raise the debt ceiling by November 3 or risk a federal government default on the nation's debt.

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Jim Webb and the Curse of the 2008 Vice Presidential Candidates

| Tue Oct. 20, 2015 12:21 PM EDT

Former Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) dropped out of the Democratic presidential race on Tuesday but left open the possibility of running next year as an independent. Webb has been many things—decorated Vietnam vet, boxer, Navy secretary, author, senator—but for a few months in 2008 (until he took his own name out of consideration), he was also a popular choice to be Barack Obama's running mate. Webb, as the Wall Street Journal put it, was "the sort of Democrat who can offer strong defense credentials, as well as a centrist, pro-gun appeal to white voters in an upper South state."

And maybe that's where he went wrong. Seven years later, almost every individual floated as potential Republican or Democratic vice presidential choice in 2008 is either out of politics or on their way out. Consider John McCain's choices:

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal: Currently touting his strong tied-for-fifth-place showing in the Iowa polls.

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin: Resigned during her first term, now writing occasionally viral Facebook posts.

Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman: Retired to become a lobbyist.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty: Couldn't beat Michele Bachmann, now a lobbyist.

Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor: Lost his primary to this guy.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney: Skiing, probably?

Former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge: Running a global security firm.

Or Obama's:

Indiana Sen.Evan Bayh: Retired to become a lobbyist.

Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius: Resigned from her post as secretary of health and human services after a calamitous HealthCare.gov rollout.

Texas Rep. Chet Edwards: Lost his seat in 2010.

Delaware Sen. Joe Biden: It's complicated.

The only exception to the Curse of 2008 is then-Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, who went on to replace Webb in the Senate and is currently considered a possible vice presidential candidate on the Democratic side. (Hillary Clinton was famously not considered, which perhaps explains her bright presidential prospects in 2016.)

The lesson, as always, is to never do anything ambitious.

Sorry, Martin O'Malley. Band-Aids Don't Fix Bullet Holes.

| Tue Oct. 20, 2015 12:20 PM EDT

Martin O'Malley's bid to win the Democratic presidential nomination isn't going so swell. The former Maryland governor is hovering around 1 percent in most polls. So he went on ABC's The View Tuesday morning with the hopes of showing that he's hip with the youths. Guitar in lap, O'Malley noted that Katy Perry will be performing at a Hillary Clinton rally in Iowa this weekend, so O'Malley performed a rendition of Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood" in response.

Normally this would be filed away as the typical TV stunt of a candidate desperate for attention as his campaign flounders. But O'Malley subtly indicated that he has strong feelings on one of the great questions of our time: Is "Bad Blood" a scathing diss track aimed at Perry?

When Taylor Swift dropped her album 1989 last year, "Bad Blood" received extra hype from the PR machine. This wasn't the normal lovelorn tale of a Starbucks lover an ex-lover, but in fact a yarn about beef between Swift and a rival pop megastar. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Swift detailed an off-and-on frenemy relationship with a female songstress she declined to name, saying that their iffy relationship eventually took a turn for the ugly. "She did something so horrible," Swift said. "I was like, 'Oh, we're just straight-up enemies.' And it wasn't even about a guy! It had to do with business. She basically tried to sabotage an entire arena tour. She tried to hire a bunch of people out from under me. And I'm surprisingly non-confrontational—you would not believe how much I hate conflict. So now I have to avoid her. It's awkward, and I don't like it."

Swift has since been less than steadfast to that explanation, hinting recently to GQ that she might have initially been lying and that it truly was about an ex-boyfriend. Swift's friend Selena Gomez, who makes a cameo in the "Bad Blood" music video and would likely have inside knowledge, passed when a Bravo TV host recently asked if the song was about Perry.

While the world may never know the truth behind Swift's inspiration for the song, O'Malley seems to be inserting himself into the supposed feud and siding with Swift. Whether Clinton follows Perry's lead and responds with a diss track of her own remains to be seen.

Jim Webb Is Considering Running as an Independent

| Mon Oct. 19, 2015 5:34 PM EDT

The race for the Democratic nomination may have already claimed its first victim—sort of. Jim Webb's campaign announced on Monday evening that the former Virginia senator will hold a press conference tomorrow—probably—to discuss "his candidacy, the campaign and his views of the political parties in the current election cycle." According to Webb's campaign, he's considering a run as an independent.

Webb's lukewarm views on the Democrats aren't much of a secret. Though he ran for Senate as a Democrat, he's a former Republican who served in the Reagan administration. At last week's debate, he said he ran for president as a Democrat because it's "the party that gives people who otherwise have no voice in the corridors of power a voice." But for him, America's truly voiceless people are poor rural whites like his own family. That means he clashes with the party's mainstream over major issues like gun control, affirmative action, and environmental regulation. Neither his views on those issues nor his frequent demands for more speaking time went over particularly well at the debate.

Dave "Mudcat" Saunders, a longtime advisor and friend of Webb, says Webb's sometimes petulant debate performance was likely the "culmination" of the candidate's anger at being sidelined by the party. "I think the frustration that Jim showed on the stage the other night, I think it had built up over a long time," says Saunders, who's not playing a role in Webb's presidential campaign. But he also casts an independent run as a matter of Webb's principles. "'Duty, honor, country' is what it's about it, and he thinks this is the best thing for him to do."

But if running as an independent gives Webb more freedom to say what he likes, there's no evidence he'll be able to do much with that freedom. Webb has no campaign offices in Iowa or New Hampshire, raised the second least of any active presidential candidate during the last quarter (we're not counting barely-there former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore for these purposes), and is still polling at only 1 percent after the debate last week.

"Jim's no dummy," Saunders says. "He know's it going to be tough, I'm sure."

A Federal Judge Gave an Epic Defense of Planned Parenthood That Everyone Should Read

| Mon Oct. 19, 2015 4:22 PM EDT

Update (10/30/15): On Thursday, US District Judge John W. deGravelles issued a preliminary injunction that will keep Planned Parenthood funded until the lawsuit is decided.

In a blistering opinion, a federal judge blocked Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's attempt to defund Planned Parenthood in the state, saying the move would cause "irreparable harm" to the 5,200 women who depend on the organization for health care.

In July, Jindal ordered an investigation into the group following the release of a series of highly edited videos that show Planned Parenthood officials discussing fetal tissue donation. He also ordered the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) to cancel Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast's (PPGC) Medicaid contract, which it did in August, effectively defunding the organization in the state. Neither of the two Planned Parenthood clinics in Louisiana offer abortions. Planned Parenthood took the DHH to court later that month.

US District Judge John W. deGravelles issued a restraining order against the DHH's move late Sunday. The order will remain in place for at least two weeks while the lawsuit proceeds. However, in his opinion, deGravelles was outspoken in his support of Planned Parenthood. He wrote that the DHH attack on the organization was baseless:

The uncontradicted evidence in the record at this time is that PPGC does not perform abortions in Louisiana, is not involved in the sale of fetal tissue and none of the conduct in question occurred at the PPGC's two Louisiana facilities. Based on the record before it, it appears likely that Plaintiff will be able to prove that the attempted termination against it are motived and driven, at least in large part, by reasons unrelated to its competence and unique to it.

He also disputed a common Republican argument (which former Mother Jones reporter Molly Redden debunked last month) that closing Planned Parenthood won't burden its patients, who would have access to other reproductive health providers in the area. According to deGravelles, defunding Planned Parenthood would leave thousands of women without options:

[The Court] turns to the uncontested and unquestioned facts—PPGC serves 5,200 poor and needy women, and PPGC has repeatedly been deemed a 'competent' provider by DHH—and honors the public interest in affording these women access to their provider of choice...For decades, PPGC has served numerous at-risk individuals and helped DHH combat a host of diseases, and, in the process, become the regular provider of over 5,000 women.

Several other states, including Arkansas, Utah, and Alabama, have cut funding for Planned Parenthood by canceling Medicaid contracts. In August, the Obama administration notified Alabama and Louisiana that cutting Planned Parenthood's Medicaid funding may violate federal law.

For its part, Jindal's office said on Monday that the governor would "continue to fight to ensure Planned Parenthood no longer receives taxpayer funding."

Bernie Sanders Is America's New Dancing Treasure

| Thu Oct. 15, 2015 2:37 PM EDT

Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator, appeared on the Ellen show Thursday morning, where the Democratic presidential hopeful took a break from waving his debate hands to give Americans a rare glimpse into his little-known dancing talent. Here he is, grinning ear-to-ear, with his hands in the air like he just don't care, "Disco Inferno" on blast:

Just behold how happy, how relaxed he appears:

His sick moves in full below:

See how the senator compares to the rest of our dancing presidential candidates below:

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Ben Carson Is Taking a Break From Talking About Hitler to Sell His Book

| Thu Oct. 15, 2015 10:34 AM EDT

Ben Carson, currently trailing only Donald Trump in the Republican presidential polls with just three months to go until the first votes are cast, is taking some time off—to sell his new book.

Per ABC News:

Republican presidential contender Dr. Ben Carson has put his public campaign events on hold for two more weeks to go on book tour for his new tome "A More Perfect Union" and catch up on fundraising events.

The campaign has been careful to separate campaign events and the book tour, and doesn't want to classify the tour as related to the campaign in any way.

This week he is catching up on fundraising events and will be back on his book tour next week making stops in Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa. So for the next two weeks, Carson won't be appearing at any public "campaign events."

Put another way: He hasn't held a campaign event since October 2, and he won't hold another until October 28.

National Review's Jim Geraghty asks the obvious question: "Why on earth would any serious candidate for president decide to stop campaigning at a moment like this for some book-signings and readings?" A better question might be, why start running a real campaign now? Carson has more or less been on a book tour for the last three years, releasing a handful of books in quick succession that have built up his name recognition among conservative voters and given him ample free media at places like Fox News. He's even continued to deliver paid speeches during the campaign.

It's unconventional, sure, but it has made him a lot of money and propelled him to near the top of the GOP field. You can't argue with the results.

Donald Trump Targets Bernie Sanders With ISIS-Themed Attack Ad

| Wed Oct. 14, 2015 12:16 PM EDT

On Wednesday morning, the day after the first Democratic debate, Donald Trump unleashed an ISIS-themed attack ad against Bernie Sanders on Instagram. "We need a strong leader—and fast!" Trump wrote in the caption of the video.


We need a strong leader- and fast!

A video posted by Donald J. Trump (@realdonaldtrump) on

Trump live-tweeted last night's debate and praised the performance of both Sanders and Hillary Clinton. But his video questions Sanders' national security bona fidesin Trump's characteristically controversial fashion. The video juxtaposes a clip of ISIS militants with the Black Lives Matter activists who interrupted Sanders during an August campaign event in Seattle, and it argues that if Sanders cannot "even defend his microphone," then he is also unfit to defend the United States. Trump has previously criticized Sanders for allowing the protesters to interrupt his speech.

Does Trump's targeting of Sanders mean he views him as a formidable rival? Or does he just enjoy trolling his fellow presidential candidates? Perhaps it's both.

Last Night's Debate Was the Most Watched Democratic Debate Ever

| Wed Oct. 14, 2015 8:10 AM EDT

Update, October 14, 12:47 p.m.: Tuesday's Democratic debate averaged 15.3 million viewers, making it the highest-rated Democratic primary debate in history.


Donald Trump and political pundits alike predicted that the first Democratic debate would tank with audiences, but the initial numbers show otherwise.

According to CNN, which live-streamed last night's event as well as the second Republican showdown back in September, the Dems scored 980,000 concurrent live streams, while the Republican debate peaked at 921,000 streams.

Granted, the live-stream numbers reflect a particular, possibly younger and more Democratic-leaning audience than overall viewership. Still, while the Donald may fancy himself a ratings magnet—so much that he graciously offered to live-tweet the Democratic debate to keep viewers engaged—it appears he's not the only one who can deliver audiences.

Fox's Shepard Smith Just Tore NBC Apart for Inviting Donald Trump to Host SNL

| Tue Oct. 13, 2015 4:17 PM EDT

On Tuesday morning, NBC announced that Donald Trump would be the host of Saturday Night Live on November 7. Shortly afterward, Trump confirmed the announcement on his Twitter account and expressed his excitement.

Trump seemed an odd choice, if only because in June NBCUniversal, responsible for Trump's hit show The Apprentice and a stakeholder in the Miss Universe Organization, announced with much fanfare that it was cutting ties with the real state mogul and GOP candidate, following his  controversial comments describing Mexican immigrants as rapists and criminals.

"At NBC, respect and dignity for all people are cornerstones of our values," the network said in a press release. "Due to the recent derogatory statements by Donald Trump regarding immigrants, NBCUniversal is ending its business relationship with Mr. Trump."

Trump retorted that NBC was "weak" and "foolish" for not understanding the "serious illegal immigration problem" facing the United States. 

This afternoon, Fox News' Shepard Smith weighed in on Trump's SNL invite, tearing into the network for cutting business ties to Trump but inviting him to host the popular show. "Nice job, NBC," Smith said. "You made a stand, you stood for your values, you did what you must, forget the money, no more Trump! Except, more Trump. Dumb, dumb, dumb."

Neither the Trump campaign nor NBC Universal responded to a request for comment. We'll update the post if we hear back.