May 30, 2014

Scientists say IPCC puts politics before science, needs reform

Scientists and academics who have taken part in major international and domestic climate assessments say that politics and alarmism need to be taken out of the study on global warming.

A panel of climate experts are telling the House Science Committee that politics often gets in the way of good science at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), as well as in the U.S. government’s own climate research.

Climate scientists and researchers who dissent even slightly from the talking points of politicians and environmental groups are intimidated and ostracized, said one congressional witness. Politics, the witness said, takes a lead role over science in the study of global warming.

“Academics who research climate change out of curiosity but find less than alarming things are ignored, unless they rise to prominence in which case they are harassed and smeared,” said Richard Tol, an economics professor at the University of Sussex.

Tol gained notoriety when reports came out that he removed his name from the IPCC’s fifth climate assessment because it had become too “alarmist”. Since then Tol says he has been attacked by environmentalists and left-leaning media for not agreeing that global warming would bring catastrophe.

“Governments nominate academics to the IPCC – but we should be clear that it is often the environment agencies that do the nominating,” Tol said in his written testimony, adding that it’s “rare that a government agency with a purely scientific agenda takes the lead on IPCC matters.”

“As a result, certain researchers are promoted at the expense of more qualified colleagues,” Tol said. “Other competent people are excluded because their views do not match those of their government. Some authors do not have the right skills or expertise, and are nominated on the strength of their connections only.”

Tol’s concerns were echoed by fellow panelist Dr. Michael Oppenheimer of Princeton University. Oppenheimer is far from a climate skeptic and has participated in IPCC assessments for decades.

While Oppenheimer says the IPCC has done many great things, he agrees that there needs to be reforms to increase transparency and openness of the organization’s process. Oppenheimer did, however, say that IPCC reports’ “Summary for Policymakers” (SPM) sections are effectively approved by governments that can distort the scientific findings.

“In the end, the SPM is approved by governments,” Oppenheimer said in his testimony before Congress. “Admittedly, the SPM approval process is imperfect.”

Oppenheimer added that “there have been occasions where government interventions, by causing omissions, have diluted IPCC findings.”

House Republicans have become increasingly interested in the scientific process at the IPCC and in the U.S. government after numerous reports have come out that governments have been lobbying the IPCC to omit some details or emphasize others in their climate reports.

“Not all IPCC authors are equal,” Tol told Congress. “Some hold positions of power in key chapters, others subordinate positions in irrelevant chapters. The IPCC leadership has in the past been very adept at putting troublesome authors in positions where they cannot harm the cause.”

Numerous reports have also come out about skeptical climate scientists being bullied or intimidated because of their affiliations and dissenting views.

Recently, Swedish meteorologist Lennart Bengtsson was forced to leave the U.K.’s Global Warming Policy Foundation, a science nonprofit that is skeptical of the notion that global warming will catastrophic.

“I received emails from colleagues all over the world telling me it was a ‘questionable’ group,” he told the U.K.’s Daily Mail. “But what made me the most upset was when a colleague from the U.S. resigned as co-author of a paper, simply because I was involved.”

Bengtsson claimed he also had an upcoming study rejected by a prominent scientific journal for political reasons.

“The problem we have now in the scientific community is that some scientists are mixing up their scientific role with that of climate activist,” Bengtsson told the U.K. Times.

According to Tol, this sort of treatment of dissenting scientists is not uncommon, as those who don’t toe the line on global warming are smeared by activist groups and the media.

“Other eminent meteorologists have been treated like Bengtsson was… merely for sticking to the academic literature, as reflected by the IPCC, that there is no statistical evidence that the impact of natural disaster has increased because of climate change,” Tol said.

“If similar-minded people come together, they often reinforce each others’ prejudices,” Tol said. “The IPCC should deploy the methods developed in business management and social psychology to guard against group think.”

Update: Texas Republican Rep. Lamar Smith said the Obama administration “should stop trying to scare Americans and then impose costly, unnecessary regulations on them. The President says there is no debate. Actually the debate has only just begun. When assessing climate change, we need to make sure that findings are driven by science, not an alarmist, partisan agenda.”


May 29, 2014

Directive outlines Obama’s policy to use the military against citizens

A 2010 Pentagon directive on military support to civilian authorities details what critics say is a troubling policy that envisions the Obama administration’s potential use of military force against Americans.

The directive contains noncontroversial provisions on support to civilian fire and emergency services, special events and the domestic use of the Army Corps of Engineers.

The troubling aspect of the directive outlines presidential authority for the use of military arms and forces, including unarmed drones, in operations against domestic unrest.

“This appears to be the latest step in the administration’s decision to use force within the United States against its citizens,” said a defense official opposed to the directive.

Directive No. 3025.18, “Defense Support of Civil Authorities,” was issued Dec. 29, 2010, and states that U.S. commanders “are provided emergency authority under this directive.”

“Federal military forces shall not be used to quell civil disturbances unless specifically authorized by the president in accordance with applicable law or permitted under emergency authority,” the directive states.

“In these circumstances, those federal military commanders have the authority, in extraordinary emergency circumstances where prior authorization by the president is impossible and duly constituted local authorities are unable to control the situation, to engage temporarily in activities that are necessary to quell large-scale, unexpected civil disturbances” under two conditions.

The conditions include military support needed “to prevent significant loss of life or wanton destruction of property and are necessary to restore governmental function and public order.” A second use is when federal, state and local authorities “are unable or decline to provide adequate protection for federal property or federal governmental functions.”

“Federal action, including the use of federal military forces, is authorized when necessary to protect the federal property or functions,” the directive states.

Military assistance can include loans of arms, ammunition, vessels and aircraft. The directive states clearly that it is for engaging civilians during times of unrest.

A U.S. official said the Obama administration considered but rejected deploying military force under the directive during the recent standoff with Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and his armed supporters.

Mr. Bundy is engaged in a legal battle with the federal Bureau of Land Management over unpaid grazing fees. Along with a group of protesters, Mr. Bundy in April confronted federal and local authorities in a standoff that ended when the authorities backed down.

The Pentagon directive authorizes the secretary of defense to approve the use of unarmed drones in domestic unrest. But it bans the use of missile-firing unmanned aircraft.

“Use of armed [unmanned aircraft systems] is not authorized,” the directive says.

The directive was signed by then-Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn. A copy can be found on the Pentagon website:

Defense analysts say there has been a buildup of military units within non-security-related federal agencies, notably the creation of Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams. The buildup has raised questions about whether the Obama administration is undermining civil liberties under the guise of counterterrorism and counternarcotics efforts.

Other agencies with SWAT teams reportedly include the Department of Agriculture, the Railroad Retirement Board, the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Office of Personnel Management, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Education Department.

The militarization of federal agencies, under little-known statues that permit deputization of security officials, comes as the White House has launched verbal attacks on private citizens’ ownership of firearms despite the fact that most gun owners are law-abiding citizens.

A White House National Security Council spokeswoman declined to comment.

President Obama stated at the National Defense University a year ago: “I do not believe it would be constitutional for the government to target and kill any U.S. citizen — with a drone or with a shotgun — without due process, nor should any president deploy armed drones over U.S. soil.”


The House defense authorization bill passed last week calls for adding $10 million to the Pentagon’s future warfare think tank and for codifying the Office of Net Assessment (ONA) as a semi-independent unit.

The provision is being called the Andrew Marshall amendment after the ONA’s longtime director and reflects congressional support for the 92-year-old manager and his staying power through numerous administrations, Republican and Democratic.

Mr. Marshall’s opponents within the Pentagon and the Obama administration persuaded Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel this year to downgrade the ONA by cutting its budget and placing it under the control of the undersecretary of defense for policy. The ONA currently is a separate entity within the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

Members of the House Committee on Armed Services objected and added the $10 million to the administration’s $8.9 million request, along with a legal provision that would codify ONA’s current status as separate from the policy undersecretary shop.

The committee was concerned Mr. Hagel’s downgrade would “limit the ability and flexibility of ONA to conduct long-range comparative assessments,” the report on the authorization bill states.

“The office has a long history of providing alternative analyses and strategies that challenge the ‘group think’ that can often pervade the Department of Defense,” the report says, noting an increasing demand for unconventional thinking about space warfare capabilities by China and Russia.

In addition to adding funds, the bill language requires the ONA to study alternative U.S. defense and deterrence strategies related to the space warfare programs of both countries.

China is developing advanced missiles capable of shooting down satellites in low and high earth orbits. It also is building lasers and electronic jammers to disrupt satellites, a key U.S. strategic military advantage. Russia is said to be working on anti-satellite missiles and other space weapons.

“The committee believes the office must remain an independent organization within the department, reporting directly to the secretary,” the report said.

Mr. Marshall, sometimes referred to as the Pentagon’s “Yoda,” after the Star Wars character, has come under fire from opponents in the administration, who say he is too independent and not aligned with the administration’s soft-line defense policies.

The ONA is known for its extensive use of contractors and lack of producing specific overall net assessments of future warfare challenges, as required by the office’s charter.

One example of the ONA’s unconventional thinking was the recent contractor report “China: The Three Warfares,” which revealed Beijing’s extensive use of political warfare against the United States, including psychological warfare, media warfare and legal warfare.

“‘The Three Warfares’ is a dynamic, three-dimensional, war-fighting process that constitutes war by other means,” the report says.

Pentagon spokesman had no immediate comment.


Navy Adm. James A. “Sandy” Winnefeld, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Wednesday that the Pentagon is deploying more and higher-quality missile defenses to counter potential nuclear attacks from North Korea and Iran.

“This is about ensuring we can deny the objectives of any insecure authoritarian state that believes acquisition of deliverable weapons of mass destruction is key to the preservation of its regime,” Adm. Winnefeld said in a speech to the Atlantic Council. “The number of states trying to achieve that capability is growing, not shrinking, with our principal current concern being North Korea, because they are closest in terms of capability, followed by Iran.”

He added that missile defenses are needed “because we’re not betting on Dennis Rodman as our deterrent against a future North Korean ICBM threat.”

He was referring to the heavily tattooed and pierced former NBA star, who has traveled to North Korea as a guest of leader Kim Jong-un. Mr. Rodman calls the dictator his “friend.”

“A robust and capable missile defense is our best bet to defend the United States from such an attack and is, in my view, our No. 1 missile defense priority,” Adm. Winnefeld said.

North Korea is continuing to develop long-range missiles and nuclear weapons. It recently threatened to conduct a fourth nuclear test, and analysts say signs from the closed communist state suggest the North Koreans may test a missile warhead.


May 28, 2014

Supreme Court gives Secret Service qualified immunity from lawsuits when protecting president

The Supreme Court, in a unanimous opinion Tuesday, ruled that Secret Service agents are entitled to qualified immunity when protecting the president.

A group of protesters had sued over an Oct. 14, 2004, incident where Secret Service agents had ordered police to move them two blocks away when then-President George W. Bush made an impromptu stop at a restaurant while campaigning for reelection in Jacksonville, Ore. A pro-Bush group of a similar size was allowed to remain within sight and hearing of the president's motorcade.

Discriminating on the basis of viewpoint is a violation of the First Amendment.

The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals previously found for the protestors in the case of Wood v. Moss, agreeing that the Secret Service acted "with the sole intent to discriminate against [the protestors] because of their viewpoint."

But the high court's opinion by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg ruled the Secret Service has a legitimate interest in keeping hostile parties out of handgun or explosives range of the president. She also pointed out that, while the pro-Bush group was geographically closer to the president, their view of the open-air dining area was obscured by a two-story building.

Quoting an earlier case, Watts v. U.S., Ginsburg concluded that the government has a "valid, even ... overwhelming interest in protecting the safety of its Chief Executive."

May 27, 2014

IRS: Employers Face $36,500 Per Worker Tax for 'Obamacare Dumping'

The Internal Revenue Service ruled it will impose a tax penalty on employers of up to $36,500 per worker for dumping employees into the Obamacare exchanges.

The New York Times, which broke the story, reports:
When employers provide coverage, their contributions, averaging more than $5,000 a year per employee, are not counted as taxable income to workers. But the Internal Revenue Service said employers could not meet their obligations under the health care law by simply reimbursing employees for some or all of their premium costs.
The IRS ruling is an effort by the Obama administration to stop employers with 50 or more workers from doing what critics of the health law said they would do: pay a penalty for not providing insurance and dump workers into the unpopular Obamacare program.

With the Nov. 4 midterm elections looming, the Obama administration could not allow massive waves of employer cancellations before Democrats face an already angry electorate. So the IRS ruled it would slap any employer with a $100 tax penalty per day per worker that used tax-exempt health insurance monies to cut workers a lump check and dump them on the Obamacare exchanges.

The new IRS rule comes on the heels of the Obama administration's announcement that it will bail out insurers which participate in the Obamacare program which lose cash. As the Times notes, "Administration officials hope the payments will stabilize premiums and prevent rate increases that could embarrass Democrats in this year’s midterm elections." 


May 26, 2014

White House mistakenly identifies CIA chief in Afghanistan

The CIA’s top officer in Kabul was exposed Saturday by the White House when his name was inadvertently included on a list provided to news organizations of senior U.S. officials participating in President Obama’s surprise visit with U.S. troops.

The White House recognized the mistake and quickly issued a revised list that did not include the individual, who had been identified on the initial release as the “Chief of Station” in Kabul, a designation used by the CIA for its highest-ranking spy in a country.

The disclosure marked a rare instance in which a CIA officer working overseas had his cover — the secrecy meant to protect his actual identity — pierced by his own government. The only other recent case came under significantly different circumstances, when former CIA operative Valerie Plame was exposed as officials of the George W. Bush administration sought to discredit her husband, a former ambassador and fierce critic of the decision to invade Iraq.

The Post is withholding the name of the CIA officer at the request of Obama administration officials who warned that the officer and his family could be at risk if the name were published. The CIA and the White House declined to comment.

The CIA officer was one of 15 senior U.S. officials identified as taking part in a military briefing for Obama at Bagram air base, a sprawling military compound north of Kabul. Others included U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan James B. Cunningham and Marine Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, Jr., the commander of U.S. and coalition forces in the country.

Their names were included on a list of participants in the briefing provided by U.S. military officials to the White House press office.

The list was circulated by e-mail to reporters who traveled to Afghanistan with Obama, and disseminated further when it was included in a “pool report,” or summary of the event meant to be shared with other news organizations, including foreign media, not taking part in the trip.

In this case, the pool report was filed by Washington Post White House bureau chief Scott Wilson. Wilson said he had copied the list from the e-mail provided by White House press officials. He sent his pool report to the press officials, who then distributed it to a list of more than 6,000 recipients.

Wilson said that after the report was distributed, he noticed the unusual reference to the station chief and asked White House press officials in Afghanistan whether they had intended to include that name.

Initially, the press office raised no objection, apparently because military officials had provided the list to distribute to news organizations. But senior White House officials realized the mistake and scrambled to issue an updated list without the CIA officer’s name. The mistake, however, already was being noted on Twitter, although without the station chief’s name.

It is unclear whether the disclosure will force the CIA to pull the officer out of Afghanistan. As the top officer in one of the agency’s largest overseas posts, with hundreds of officers, analysts and other subordinates, the station chief in Kabul probably has been identified to senior Afghan government officials and would not ordinarily take part in clandestine missions beyond the U.S. Embassy compound.

The identities of at least three CIA station chiefs in Pakistan have been exposed in recent years. In one case, a CIA officer became a target of death threats after his cover was blown, forcing the agency to rush him out of the country.


May 23, 2014

IRS to start over on rules governing tea party groups, other nonprofits

The IRS said Thursday it will go back and rewrite the proposed rules governing nonprofit groups and political activity, bowing to overwhelming opposition from tea party groups and free speech advocates on both ends of the ideological spectrum who feared the tax agency would hurt political debate.

In a statement, the IRS said it still intends to update its rules but will put off a hearing until after it issues a new version — and gave no timetable for moving ahead.

Conservatives hailed the move as a victory, saying that issuing a new version of the rule before the hearing is tantamount to starting over. Meanwhile, Democrats on Capitol Hill said the move was a setback for their efforts to try to push wealthy donors to the periphery of political debate.

“This delay is deeply disappointing and a real setback for democracy and faith in government,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat. “The only hope we have is when the IRS goes back, they don’t succumb to any form of political pressure and enact a very tough rule that will equally curtail liberal and conservative groups.”

It’s the latest chapter in the IRS tea party-targeting scandal that erupted a year ago, when the IRS’s internal auditor found the agency improperly targeted tea party and conservative groups who applied for status as nonprofit “social welfare” organizations. According to the audit, the agency asked inappropriate questions of conservative groups and blocked some applications for years.

As of earlier this month, some applications were still being held up — including one that has been waiting for five years.

The agency says the current rules — and a crush of new applications — created confusion, which they said led to the tea party-targeting scandal.

Under the current rules, social welfare groups, also known as 501(c)(4) organizations, are allowed to conduct political activities as long as such activities aren’t the applicant’s “primary” purpose. Many of the groups have interpreted that to mean 49 percent of their activities can be political. Organizing as a social welfare group also allows them to shield their donors from public disclosure.

The rewrite that the IRS proposed late last year would have banned a wider array of political activity, including even publishing voter guides or inviting candidates, such as sitting members of Congress, to talk to groups in the months ahead of an election.

The revision drew scathing criticism, with more than 150,000 comments — most of them negative — officially filed with the agency and with the Treasury Department, which cowrote the new rules.

Groups ranging from the American Civil Liberties Union and the League of Women Voters to the American Conservative Union said they feared the rules would stifle democratic debate.

Faced with that opposition, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen had hinted the agency would make substantial changes. And on Thursday the agency made that official.

“Consistent with what Commissioner Koskinen has previously stated, it is likely that we will make some changes to the proposed regulation in light of the comments we have received,” the IRS said in a statement. “Given the diversity of views expressed and the volume of substantive input, we have concluded that it would be more efficient and useful to hold a public hearing after we publish the revised proposed regulation.”

Republicans said putting off a hearing until after a rewrite amounts to scrapping the original rules.

“This proposed rule was wrong from the start,” said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, the Michigan Republican who is Congress’s chief tax writer. “The American people spoke out loud and clear against it, and hopefully the IRS and the Obama administration will think twice before ever trying to go down this path again.”

The IRS said it is committed to still going ahead with a rewrite, but Mr. Koskinen had previously said it wouldn’t be in place for this November’s congressional elections.


May 22, 2014

The Nuclear Option: Why Harry Reid Can Smear the Koch Brothers with Impunity

When the founders included the “Speech or Debate” clause in the U.S. Constitution, they wanted to protect members of Congress from the whims of any outside tyrant who might abuse the power of his office to harass, control or destroy his political enemies.

Today, in this putrid era of Senate history, we realize it was a gross oversight that the founders did not extend such protections to ordinary private citizens from members of Congress. Even in their deep cynicism about the human nature of politicians, the founders apparently never dreamed that a man like Majority Leader Harry Reid would one day control the U.S. Senate.

The specific purpose of Article 1, Section 6, of the Constitution was to ensure that lawmakers could carry out their duties in Congress without being delayed, arrested or jailed on trumped-up charges by political enemies.

Further, “for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place.”

This gave members of Congress the freedom to speak as faithfully and truthfully as they could without concern that their political enemies might later levy retribution against them. Members of Congress, in other words, were protected before, during and after any official business from the unbridled bullying of tyrants outside of Congress.

So what protections are there for the tax-paying American citizen from a tyrannical bully if that bully happens to be a member of Congress using his powerful position to slander, smear and slime that citizen’s character and motives? Nothing, apparently.

Take Charles and David Koch. They employ some 50,000 Americans and have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on charitable causes, education and political advocacy. Yet at the end of the day, the wealthy and successful brothers amount to nothing more nor nothing less than the most treasured American assets: private, taxpaying citizens.

What respect does this earn from Harry Reid, the man who once publicly expressed relief at the completion of the $621 million Capitol Visitor Center (that you paid for) because he would no longer have to “literally smell the tourists coming into the Capitol?”

It has earned the Kochs more than 100 mentions on the floor of the U.S. Senate in disjointed, confusing tirades by Mr. Reid.

He has called them “power-drunk billionaires,” accused them of lying and questioned their motives. There was a time in this country when Harry Reid would have been shot dead in a duel over less.

“It is too bad that they’re trying to buy America,” Mr. Reid said in one particularly incoherent diatribe.

“It’s time that the American people spoke out against the terrible dishonesty of these two brothers who are about as un-American as anyone I can imagine.”

Mr. Reid has smeared the Kochs with such calumny, it is a wonder the Kochs have not sued him for slander.
Oh yeah. They can’t. Because Harry Reid’s slanderous speech is protected in the well of the Senate.

Not only is Harry Reid protected by the Constitution for slandering private American citizens, he is also protected from the wrath of any other member of Congress who might want to rebuke him for such weaselly behavior. (Forgive me. I don’t mean to insult weasels.)

That is because Senate debate rules specifically prohibit any member from “directly or indirectly” suggesting another senator’s “conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a Senator.”

So Harry Reid is above the law when he slimes the Kochs from the belly of Congress and he is cocooned in protection from being justifiably slimed by others.

Is there any description for this truly dishonest, un-American, treasonous conduct other than “cowardly bully?”

For some time now, people in the corridors of Congress and outside observers have increasingly wondered whether Harry Reid is going insane. Is he losing his mind? Is he in the grips of dementia?

If so, I hope to be forgiven for my harsh assessments of a sick man.

But you know what is even scarier than a crazed, power-drunk lunatic abusing his high office to torment private American citizens? That there are 54 other duly elected senators who again and again vote to make Harry Reid one of the most powerful men in the world.

May 21, 2014

CNN President Jeff Zucker: ‘We’re Not Going To Be Shamed’ Into Covering Benghazi

CNN President Jeff Zucker declared his network would “not going to be shamed” into covering Benghazi and other stories without “real news value” at an awards dinner Monday.

Capital New York reports that Zucker explained CNN’s post-plane plans during an interview at the Deadline Club’s annual dinner on Monday night.

“I don’t think there’s any question about our commitment to breaking news, as evidenced by all the questions about the plane,” Zucker told The New York Times’ Bill Carter 

“So we’re still there whenever that happens,” he continued, “but we’re going to supplement that with some different kind of storytelling.”

What kind of stories? “Climate change is one of those stories that deserves more attention, that we all talk about,” he explained — though he lamented the fact that “when we do do those stories, there does tend to be a tremendous amount of lack of interest on the audience’s part.”

But there are some stories Zucker is loathe to touch, like the House select committee on Benghazi scandal.

“We’re not going to be shamed into it by others who have political beliefs that want to try to have temper tantrums to shame other news organizations into covering something,” he explained, taking a not-so-subtle shot at the Republican Party. “If it’s of real news value, we’ll cover it.”

For all his talk of “real news,” Zucker felt compelled to explain why his network obsessively covered the missing airliner for two months despite possessing almost no new information.

“I’m incredibly comfortable with it,” he declared. “It was an enormously important story: an American-made Boeing jet liner, with Rolls Royce engines with 239 people, disappears into thin air . . . That’s why we devoted the resources that we did to it.”

But Zucker did admit that CNN anchor Don Lemon’s theory that the plane could have been swallowed by a black hole was over the top.

“He was being facetious, but it did not come off that way,” he said. “And he knows that if he could do it over again, he wouldn’t quite present it that way.”

Zucker, who is famous for his inept tenure as president of NBC, moved to CNN in January 2013 and almost immediately drove its U.S. operation into the ground, with the original cable news network suffering its worst prim time ratings in twenty years.

On Tuesday it was revealed that NBC beat out all competitors in the 2013-14 September to May prime time season, increasing its audience by 13 percent while CNN continued to hemorrhage viewers.


May 20, 2014

Georgia, Kentucky primaries to sow seeds for Republican control of Senate

Republicans on Tuesday will cast votes in the two states where they are most vulnerable heading into November’s elections — Georgia and Kentucky — where primaries could leave the GOP champions bruised as they prepare to face strong female Democrats.

“If the Democrats win in either Kentucky or Georgia, it will be next to impossible for Republicans to take the Senate in 2014,” said Ford O'Connell, a Republican Party strategist. “That is the bottom line.”

Arkansas, Idaho, Oregon and Pennsylvania also have primaries Tuesday that will set the lineups for a series of general election showdowns.

But it’s the two Republican-held Senate seats that are getting the most attention because of the stakes involved and the bitter turn the primaries have taken in the five-way Georgia contest, and the Kentucky battle, which pits top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell against tea party-backed Matt Bevin.

The latest Real Clear Politics average of polls shows Mr. McConnell has survived divisive attacks and holds a 20-plus point lead over Mr. Bevin. The attacks have hurt, though, and he runs neck and neck in polls with likely Democratic opponent Alison Lundergan Grimes.

But analysts said Mr. McConnell should emerge from the race stronger, and Ms. Grimes will have to figure out how to respond.

“She will be tested like she has never been tested. She will have to show she is ready for the big time. That part of the equation she has control over and should be able to meet the challenge,” said Scott Lasley, political science professor at Western Kentucky University.

“The other question is one that she doesn’t have as much control over and that is how to run for a federal office in Kentucky without getting pulled down by national Democrats like President Obama, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi,” Mr. Lasley said. “That is a tougher challenge and one that she will not have full control over.”

Ted Jackson, a veteran Republican Party strategist in Kentucky, said he thinks Ms. Grimes is at “her high mark today” and that she has a tough task of convincing voters that they should replace the most powerful Senate Republican with a freshman lawmaker.

“She is a blank slate today, and nobody knows anything about her,” Mr. Jackson said. “I think Grimes ultimately is not going to wear well with the voters. She is a 35-year-old young person with no experience. Secretary of state is not a job. I mean, anybody can be secretary of state.”

Democrats, though, said Mrs. Grimes has overcome a lackluster campaign rollout and that she has done what she has needed to do at this point in the campaign: kept her head down and raised money.

Ms. Grimes has raised nearly $8.1 million and has close to $4.9 million cash on hand, according to the Center for Responsive Politics breakdown of the latest campaign finance reports.

Mr. McConnell has raised more than $21 million and has more than $10.1 million in the bank.

While the Kentucky primary is shaping up as formality, the Republican contest in Georgia is far less certain.

If no one wins 50 percent of the vote Tuesday, it will go to a two-candidate runoff in July.

As it stands, the battle for a spot in a runoff race has boiled down to a three-person contest of Rep. Jack Kingston, deep-pocketed businessman David Perdue and former Secretary of State Karen Handel.

That could be a bad omen for Democrats, as polls show likely Democratic opponent Michelle Nunn was performing better against Reps. Phil Gingrey or Paul C. Broun, who were seen as the most conservative candidates in the race.

But Mrs. Kingston, Mr. Perdue and Mrs. Handel have engaged in an increasingly vicious campaign, which is likely to continue for another 90 days until the July 22 runoff.

“The question will be: Will the next nine weeks be a civil period or one of scorched earth?” Mr. O'Connell said. “If it is scorched earth, then too many open wounds on the eventually GOP victory could give Nunn an opening.”

In other key races across the country Tuesday, freshman Rep. Tom Cotton, a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, is expected to win the Republican Senate nomination in Arkansas, putting him on a collision course with two-term Sen. Mark L. Pryor — one of the most vulnerable Democrats in the midterm elections.

In Idaho’s 2nd Congressional District, Rep. Michael K. Simpson is positioned to defeat Bryan Smith, a political novice aligned with the tea party.

In Pennsylvania, Rep. Allyson Y. Schwartz, state Treasurer Rob McCord and free-spending businessman Tom Wolf are running to face off against Gov. Tom Corbett, one of Democrats’ top gubernatorial targets.


May 19, 2014

Republican ‘establishment’ sinks cash into ads pushing back at Tea Party

On a recent Saturday, foot soldiers in the Republican Party’s civil war fanned out across a neighborhood of winding streets and manicured lawns to beat back the Tea Party.

They did not meet much resistance. Over the course of two hours, dozens of residents said they planned to vote in the May 20 primary election for Idaho Representative Mike Simpson, a veteran lawmaker with a reputation for pragmatism. None said they would back his Tea Party challenger Bryan Smith.

As he heads for a likely victory on Tuesday, Simpson has plenty of help. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and the National Rifle Association have joined with groups representing hospitals, dentists and home sellers to try to return him to Congress for an eighth term.

The push is part of a wider drive by so-called establishment Republicans to back mainstream candidates and prevent Tea Party figures like Smith from winning primaries ahead of the November 4 midterm elections.

They fear a repeat of some key races in previous congressional elections when Tea Party insurgents alienated independents and lost to Democrats. Party elders still smart at the loss of a U.S. Senate contest in Missouri in 2012 which was blamed on comments about “legitimate rape” by Republican candidate Todd Akin.

While the Tea Party movement has helped Republicans win significant spending cuts and thwart some of President Barack Obama’s agenda, it also forced a messy shutdown of the U.S. government in 2013 that was unpopular with voters.

In Idaho, organizations that have spent more than $2 million to back veteran Republican Simpson look likely to get a return on their investment, thanks to a deluge of TV advertising and months of door-knocking by workers like Stacey Barrack.

“We talk about his conservative record and everything he’s done in office, and it’s worked,” said Barrack, 28. She entered details of each doorstep encounter into her smart phone.

Working closely together, the pro-Simpson groups have created a shadow campaign of sorts that mirrors, and outspends, the functions of the candidate’s own campaign, sharing data from door-knocking efforts and telephone surveys to determine what messages work best and coordinating their ad buys to ensure they are not duplicating their efforts.

“Everybody does their own product, but we try to make sure everything marries up,” said Scott Reid of the U.S. Chamber, which was the first group to run ads for Simpson and has spent the most money in the race.
One of its TV ads features an endorsement for Simpson from Romney, still a pillar of the Republican establishment despite his 2012 loss to Obama.

Barrack and the other door knockers have been hired by Defending Main Street, a group funded in part by the Laborers Union and the Operating Engineers Union, which unlike most other labor unions give money to both political parties.

As a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee, Simpson is the kind of influential, practical-minded Republican who professional associations are keen to cultivate. Lobbyists say his deep knowledge of a wide range of issues, from nuclear energy to forestry, makes him a valuable ally.

The NRA has mailed out flyers for him and the National Association of Realtors has paid for online video ads. The American Hospital Association and the American Dental Association have paid for polls, mail and TV and radio spots.


Elsewhere, the Republican establishment is also gunning for the Tea Party as it seeks to present electable candidates who can win control of the whole of Congress and make Obama’s life difficult for the rest of his term. Republicans need only a gain of six seats to take the Senate back from the Democrats.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has emerged as one of the biggest spenders so far this year, pumping $12.3 million into the campaigns of 20 business-friendly candidates from Alaska to Florida.

The Chamber and Defending Main Street helped Representative David Joyce fend off a Tea Party-backed challenger in Ohio this month, and also picked up a win in North Carolina, where it worked with the NRA to help state assembly speaker Thom Tillis win a primary battle for a Senate seat.

In Kentucky, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell is holding a wide lead over Tea Party challenger Matt Bevin, thanks in part to advertising, polling and other campaign efforts by the NRA, the Chamber and a handful of other business groups.

The Tea Party’s popularity has ebbed in recent years. A Gallup poll released this month found that 41 percent of Republicans considered themselves Tea Party supporters, down from 61 percent in November 2010.

Still, the Tea Party showed it is still a force in the congressional elections when Ben Sasse, a candidate associated with the movement, won a Nebraska Senate seat primary.

And no matter the outcome of this year’s primaries, the movement has pushed the Republican Party as a whole farther to the right.

The fiscally conservative Club for Growth advocacy group which often backs Tea Party hopefuls, sees less of a need this election cycle to spend money to get its low-tax message out.

“Now we’re talking about how much less we’re going to spend as opposed to how much more we’re going to spend,” said spokesman Barney Keller. “That’s a sea change from where we were.”


Since 1998, Simpson has forged a reputation as a jovial dealmaker who is willing to work with Democrats in order to look after the interests of a sprawling district that encompasses jagged mountain ranges, Mormon farm country, and the microbreweries and bicycle shops of Boise. A close ally of House Speaker John Boehner, Simpson regularly votes for budget deals that are spurned by Tea Party-backed lawmakers.

Simpson’s opponent Smith, an Idaho Falls lawyer, has also received outside backing from small-government groups like Freedomworks and the Club for Growth, which in previous cycles helped elect Tea Party stars like Texas Senator Ted Cruz.

Smith criticizes Simpson’s support for compromises like the 2008 Wall Street bailout and the 2013 bipartisan budget deal.

“If you’re like Congressman Simpson and you vote for a $700 billion bailout, you can naturally expect to get the support of constituents who are the beneficiaries of that,” Smith said.

Simpson is likely to win the primary on Tuesday, according to independent forecasters, and is strongly favored to go on to defeat his Democratic opponent in November.

Groups that back Simpson and other pragmatic Republicans in the primary are careful to portray them as reliable conservatives rather than moderates.

As she makes her rounds in the streets of Boise, Barrack distributes flyers that emphasize Simpson’s A+ rating with the NRA, his 100-percent rating from National Right to Life, an anti-abortion group, and the more than 40 times he has voted to repeal Obamacare.

Simpson said national business groups were supporting him because their members in the state give him high marks.

“The NRA has members all over Idaho. If those members don’t support me, the NRA doesn’t support me. If business in Idaho doesn’t support me, the U.S. Chamber doesn’t support me,” he said in an interview.

May 16, 2014

Valerie Jarrett: 'We Have a Commitment' from Boehner on Amnesty This Year

President Barack Obama's top adviser and confidant told a group of global elites on Thursday in Las Vegas, Nevada that House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has made a commitment to the White House to try to pass amnesty legislation this year.

After hailing the Senate's amnesty bill that the Congressional Budget Office determined would lower the wages of American workers, Valerie Jarrett, Obama's senior advisor, told attendees at the yearly invitation-only SkyBridge Alternatives Conference that Boehner would help the White House make a push get immigration reform enacted in the next three months. 

“I think we have a window this summer, between now and August, to get something done,” Jarrett said, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “We have a commitment from Speaker Boehner, who’s very frustrated with his caucus."

Addressing attendees at an event described as conference where "investors and elite political donors" along with "hedge fund managers, political and business leaders and celebrities" can "speak freely," Jarrett said that the Senate's bill would pass in the House if Republicans brought it to the floor. 

Jarrett, echoing the sentiments of Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), who has said that Democrats would want a piecemeal approach to immigration reform if they get all of the pieces of the Senate bill, said that there were "a lot of ways to skin a cat" and that there would be "mounting pressure" on amnesty legislation in the coming months. She also reportedly claimed the high-tech industry needed more "educated workers" even though numerous studies have debunked the myth that there is a shortage of American high-tech workers. 

The Senate's bill would double and possibly triple the number of H1-B visas that high-tech lobbying groups like Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg's covet even though American colleges and universities graduate more workers in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields than there are job openings. In addition, illegal immigrants put on a path to citizenship and given work visas could qualify for any job, which would reduce the opportunities for Americans on the bottom rungs of the economic ladder.

Boehner, who hired Sen. John McCain's top amnesty adviser at the end of the last year, has previously told fundraisers in Las Vegas that he was "hellbent" on getting amnesty legislation done this year and then mocked conservative opponents of amnesty at an event in his Ohio district. Boehner also said that when he and Obama agreed the most on amnesty legislation when they met at the White House in February of this year. Obama also indicated this week that there were only "two to three months" to get amnesty legislation enacted this year. 

House GOP leaders like Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), the GOP Conference Chair, have also floated an August deadline to get legislation on the House floor while business executives have said they thought amnesty legislation would be the"final act" of the lame-duck session. Even if Congress is pressured not to act on immigration legislation this year, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and GOP leaders said on Wednesday that Republicans in the Senate would "absolutely" try to pass amnesty legislation again in the next Congress if Republicans win back the Senate in November. 

May 15, 2014

Susan Rice: ‘Dang If I Know’ Whether There Are More Benghazi Secrets To Uncover

Former U.N. ambassador Susan Rice, who served as the Obama administration’s mouthpiece after the Benghazi attacks in September 2012, suggested Wednesday that there’s nothing left to learn about the White House’s response to the attacks — telling a reporter “dang if I know” whether the Republican investigation will unearth more evidence of a coverup.

Rice, now the president’s national security advisor, appeared Wednesday morning at the Women’s Foreign Policy Group in Washington, D.C. Rice had earlier made a joke alluding to the harm the Benghazi scandal caused to her career, prompting PBS journalist Judy Woodruff to ask about Republicans’ new allegations.

“You’re too smart for that!” Rice laughed. “Come on!”

But Woodruff pressed on, asking her what the American people can expect to be revealed as part of the House select committee on Benghazi. “What more is there that the administration has done or said that we’re not aware of?” she asked.

“Dang if I know,” Rice boldly declared. “I mean, honestly. We — the administration has produced, I think, 25,000 pages of documents or 25,000 individual documents. They have supported, participated in, contributed to the investigation of seven, I think, different committees.”

“We have had an accountability review board by a very distinguished group of outsiders,” she continued. “House and Senate committees have pronounced on this repeatedly. So it is hard to imagine what further will come of yet another committee.”


May 14, 2014

Ben Sasse Wins Nebraska GOP Senate Primary

Midland University President Ben Sasse won convincingly against former State Treasurer Shane Osborn and businessman Sid Dinsdale in the Republican Senate primary here, likely sending a vaunted young conservative voice to the Senate in 2015.

Sasse, who received the backing of top national conservatives like Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Mike Lee (R-UT) and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, as well as powerful groups like the Club For Growth, focused his campaign message on repealing Obamacare and restoring the constitutional vision of the Founding Fathers.

The Associated Press called the race for Sasse. With 13 percent of precincts reporting, he was up 43 percent to Dinsdale's 26 percent.

Having won the primary, Sasse is the front-runner to win the general election in November. A recent poll showed Sasse 25 points ahead of Democrat Dave Domina, an attorney from Omaha who won the Democratic nomination.

Osborn began the race in the lead in part due to his high name recognition. Some polls showed his campaign faltered around the time it was revealed that Navy memo he provided to the media clearing his actions in a 2001 incident had actually been authored by a friend and not cleared through official channels.

Dinsdale made a late surge, utilizing his sizable wealth to finance a spurt of campaign ads. But he was harmed by prior donations to Democratic candidates and questions about his sister's role on the board of Planned Parenthood.

National Tea Party groups quickly declared victory as the race was called. 

"Ben Sasse won this race because he never stopped fighting for conservative principles," said Matt Hoskins, executive director of the Senate Conservatives Fund, which spent $1.1 million on the race including coordinated contributions. "Ben Sasse will lead the fight to repeal Obamacare and enact reforms that give patients greater control over their own health care decisions. He will fight to stop wasteful taxpayer spending and balance the budget," Hoskins added.

“Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Mike Lee? They’ve got reinforcements coming in January," said Jenny Beth Martin, the president of the Tea Party Patriots.

In his victory speech, however, Sasse sought to downplay the narrative of the race as a victory in a intra-Republican civil war, saying the Nebraskan voters he encountered on the campaign trail didn't care about that. 

Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS), the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, praised Sasse in a statement as well. "Ben is a problem solver who will be a conservative voice in our effort to repeal ObamaCare and bring much needed fiscal sanity to the Senate," Moran said.