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USApp Managing Editor, Chris Gilson, looks at the best in political blogging from the Beltway. Our round-up of state blogs will follow on Saturday afternoon. 

Foreign policy and defense 

The biggest news in the U.S., and indeed anywhere, this week was Russia’s military intervention into the Crimea region of the Ukraine, following the ousting of that country’s President, Viktor Yanukovich.  Following President Obama’s speech last week where he stated that Russia would ‘face costs’ for its intervention, PoliticusUSA reports on Saturday that Republican Senator John McCain wants the U.S to go to war over the crisis, and is trying to make the President look like a weak leader. Meanwhile, The Lonely Conservative writes that the Obama administration’s much vaunted ‘Reset’ with Russia, put in place by the then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is no longer ‘going so well’, leaving Russia to essentially do whatever it wants. On the same issue, The Monkey Cage writes on Sunday that the ‘Russia reset’ was already dead before the current crisis, and that Obama must now focus on isolating Russia.

One politician who seems to be confused about Obama’s line on the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, is Senator Lindsey Graham. FreakOutNation reports that he has criticised Obama for threatening Putin as he appears ‘weak and indecisive’, but then states that ‘Obama needs to do something’. On Monday PoliticusUSA takes Republicans to task for their past support for Vladimir Putin, especially after his op-ed on Syria in the New York Times last year. They wonder if Republicans will now express contrition for their previous praise for Putin for his anti-Obama and anti-gay stances.

Obama phone

President Barack Obama talks on the phone in the Oval Office with Russian President Vladimir Putin about the situation in Ukraine, March 1, 2014.
(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

On Monday, Hit & Run responds to an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal that the U.S. should deploy its Sixth Fleet into the Black Sea. They say that the U.S. can ‘wag its fingers’ on the crisis, and perhaps impose sanctions, but given Russia’s leverage in Ukraine, the U.S. faces very real limits on the credibility of its demands and threats. Daily Kos writes on Tuesday on recent polls that show that after wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, there is very little appetite in the U.S. for involvement in a new conflict in an area that they feel that America has no responsibility to defend.  Informed Comment uses the crisis to look at America’s role in the world as an imperial power. They argue that the power that is ‘seeping’ out of the U.S. system does not appear to be flowing elsewhere, and also that major wars between powers have largely ceased to exist. On Thursday, Daily Kos reports that the U.S. had imposed sanctions and visa restrictions on individuals and groups responsible for undermining democracy in Ukraine. 

On a non-Ukraine related issue, The Feed looks at the threat posed by the ‘populist surge’ in Europe, and the problems that they may bring to the current EU-U.S. trade talks. 

The Democratic Party, the GOP and elections 

While most commentators are now convinced that Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic candidate in the 2016 Presidential election, there is still some speculation about what current Vice-President Joe Biden’s intentions are. On Monday, The Atlantic wonders what Biden is up to, given some of his recent comments and attempts to cast off the ‘control’ of the Obama administration.

This week the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) released its list of its top races ahead of this year’s mid-term elections. National Journal says that the 16 seat ‘Red to Blue’ list shows how hard it will be for the party to gain a majority in the House of Representatives. Also responding to the list, The Lonely Conservative writes that the DCCC is setting a low bar given that even if they win back those 16 seats, they still need to win one more to win back the House. The Atlantic weighs in on Wednesday, saying that given the GOP seems more likely to gain seats than lose them, and with their Senate majority looking increasingly tenuous; Congressional Democrats may be ‘doomed’.

Things aren’t looking so great for President Obama this week, either. The Lonely Conservative writes that new polling shows that his approval rating has sunk to a mere 38 percent.

Moving to the Republican Party in the news this week, Daily Kos writes on Sunday that the GOP has a ‘transparent’ agenda of class warfare, as illustrated by their opposition to job bills, and that their agenda is to keep people desperate for work, with more seeking jobs than can find them, which will in turn drive down wages. 

On Thursday, The Atlantic previews the battle for the House Speakership, once the current holder of the job, John Boehner retires. They say that a recent squabble between Representative Jeb Hensarling and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor may offer an early window into the likely jockeying for the speakership whenever Boehner decides to retire. Turning to Boehner himself, The Lonely Conservative reports that he has been snubbed by this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the GOP’s annual gathering, and has not been invited to speak. This has not been a good week for the speaker – PoliticusUSA says that he is being ‘bullied’ by the Tea Party wing of the GOP, while he demands that President Obama takes a stronger stand against Russia and President Putin. Later in the week, they also report that Putin has managed to do the impossible – rallied Republicans to work with the President on imposing sanction against Russia.

Unfortunately this agreement does not reach into areas of economic policy. On Monday, Wonkblog reports that Republican Representative, Paul Ryan has proposed a far different vision to promote economic mobility and changes to entitlements than Obama’s proposed budget this week. On Wednesday The Left Coaster says that the House GOP should be held in contempt, after Darrel Issa (R-CA), who whilst chairing the Oversight and Government Reform Committee in the purported IRS Tea Party targeting scandal, ended the hearing and prevented ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-MD) from making his own statement and asking questions of his own to the witness. Moving to the Senate, on Thursday, National Journal looks at the relationship between Senators Marco Rubio and Rand Paul, saying that Paul’s isolationist foreign policy streak may come up against Rubio’s more hawkish tendencies in the lead up to the 2016 GOP presidential candidate nomination race. Daily Kos, reporting from the CPAC this week, says that a picture of an empty room at a session on minority outreach illustrates the GOP’s problem with non-white voters.

Government, the Beltway and Congress’ agenda

This week saw President Obama send a budget to Congress, and with total spending levels agreed upon last year and the debt limit extended, some might consider it to be ‘boring’. Roll Call’s Hawkings Here gives five reasons why this budget year is likely to be anything but boring. Reason #1? House Republicans are pushing for the budget to balance in the next decade, and it may not pass on the floor. Wonkblog takes the opposite line, with five reasons why Obama’s budget matters even less this year – one of them being that no-one is paying a great deal of attention to budget issues at the moment.

On Sunday, National Journal writes that House Speaker John Boehner is ‘playing’ Washington; having discussions and making noise about important issues, such as immigration, but with little likelihood of a vote occurring. Crooks & Liars echoes this, writing that, despite unveiling a set of principles for immigration reform in January, the House GOP is still unlikely to pass it. They say that it could have dire results for the party, as it may alienate the country’s fastest growing voting bloc. Meanwhile, on Monday, Occasional Planet, looking at a new tax bill from Representative Dave Camp (R-MI), which would cut corporate income tax and reduce individual tax brackets, say that given the bill may also mean cuts to entitlements, they prefer it when Congress is gridlocked. On Wednesday, PoliticusUSA writes that new research shows that 2 million people have had their unemployment benefits cut since Republicans let their emergency unemployment aid expire late last year – aid that the GOP is refusing to renew.

Congress construction

Credit: dbking (Creative Commons BY)

Moving to what the GOP has been doing in Congress; Daily Kos writes that they were gearing up this week for their 50th vote to dismantle Obamacare – this time the vote is on a bill to delay the individual mandate and eliminate the penalty for not buying insurance. PoliticusUSA thinks that this is the GOP’s 51st attempt at killing Obamacare, but also reports that President Obama has promised to veto the legislation in the event that it ever reaches him. Moving to the Senate, Daily Kos reports on Thursday that Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has been lobbying to get enough votes to pass a bill which would put decisions about sexual assaults in the military in the hands of public prosecutors. They say that the bill is a rare case where some Democrats are opposed, and may still fail even with 10 Republican votes. Hollywood celebrity Seth Rogen was at the Capitol this week, speaking to a Senate committee on Alzheimers. According to Roll Call’s Heard on the Hill Rogen blasted the committee for lack of attendance at the session.

On Monday, The Foundry writes that the real problem in Congress is that the body has willingly given up much of its law-making ability, with lobbyists and administrative agencies often developing policy. The Atlantic looks at a similarly downbeat view of Congress, saying that many Representatives are leaving after only one term, seeking positions in local government. Meanwhile Sabato’s Crystal Ball advocates increasing the size of the House. They argue with each representative answering to an average of 700,000 constituents, having more members would make gerrymandering more difficult and improve rural representation.

Affordable Care 

On Sunday, The Feed writes that many Democratic Governors who are up for reelection this November are concerned about the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). They say that with many negative stories around the President’s signature policy, such as increasing premiums, the Governors are worried that the program is dragging them down.  They later write that even if Governors are unsure about Obamacare, the American people still trust the Democrats on healthcare more than they do the GOP. Daily Kos writes on Monday that, despite their opposition, House Republicans still do not have a viable alternative to Obamacare. What they do have, is a PR campaign.

As the week continues, White House Dossier reports that the Obama administration is to again delay the requirement that insurers offer plans that are compliant with the new law for a further two years. They say this tactic which will allow people to keep their plans will avoid people receiving their cancellation notices around the time of the mid-term elections. 

The economy and society 

The Common Core State Standards Initiative for schools has drawn criticism in recent years, as it sets up national-level standards, and removes local decision making. The Foundry says that recent remarks from Democrats that a name change for the program might help to correct Common Core’s ‘image problem’ won’t help as many parents and teachers are against national standards no matter how they are named.

This week Crooks & Liars reports that the National Rifle Association opposes the appointment of Dr Vivek Murphy as the next Surgeon General because of his statements that guns are a major health concern in America.  Also on the issue of gun ownership, The Atlantic writes on Thursday that cities are losing the power to regulate guns, in favour of legislation passed at state level.

Credit: dbking (Creative Commons BY)

Credit: dbking (Creative Commons BY)

Following the vetoing of a bill to allow discrimination against gay people based on religious freedom last week in Arizona, there was a great deal of commentary on gay rights this week. On Sunday, The Monkey Cage looks at how big business got behind gay rights – mostly via lobbying from gay rights groups in the 1990s and 2000s. On Sunday, The Political Carnival writes that the LGBT community ‘scares’ the GOP who are worried about what they call the ‘homosexual agenda’. Wonkblog looks at a survey of attitudes towards same-sex marriage, finding that only 41 percent of Americans oppose it – meaning that opponents are now on the wrong side of public opinion. The Atlantic looks at the wide implications of religious freedom laws similar to the one that was vetoed last week, writing that these sorts of laws could end up hurting the faithful, if they are used against members of their own communities.

On Sunday, The Foundry looks at the problem of jail sentences often also being life sentences for poverty. They say one possible solution is to encourage correctional educational programs for those who are incarcerated, which would help to lower recidivism and increase employment odds among inmates after they are released. The Atlantic also looks at poverty and inequality this week, writing that new research has found that greater redistribution within society may not have negative effects on economic growth. On Wednesday Hit & Run takes an opposite line, writing that, in light of Obama’s budget this week, a sluggish economy calls for less federal spending, not more.

On Thursday, Bloomberg Businessweek covers Chris Ruddy, CEO of Newsmax’s plans to launch NewsmaxTV this June, which will be a more information based and less polarizing competitor for Fox News.

And finally…

FreakOutNation reports this week that a church in Kentucky is giving away free guns as door prizes in the hope of converting non-believers.

Whilst speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference this week, business tycoon Donald Trump referred to former President Jimmy Carter as the “the late, great”. National Journal reports afterwards that the Carter Center has stated that the 89 year old former President is still very much alive.

Roll Call’s Heard on the Hill reports on the annual Congressional Hockey Challenge this week, reporting that Team Lawmakers beat Team Lobbyists.

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Note:  This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of USApp– American Politics and Policy, nor of the London School of Economics.

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