The Elevator Speech Overview

by Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP

The House and Senate were both in session this week, although it had a slow start due to the snowstorm in Washington, D.C. on Monday. On Tuesday the President released his $3.9 trillion budget request followed by several high-level officials testifying before Congress to discuss the proposals it contained. Budget discussions will continue next week. On Wednesday, seven Senate Democrats joined with Republicans to reject the President’s nominee to lead the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division in an embarrassing defeat for the White House. Also on Wednesday at a hearing by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Republican Chairman Darrell Issa adjourned the meeting of the committee in the middle of a question being asked by the Ranking Democrat, Elijah Cummings. In an effort to ease the transition to Obamacare, the Obama administration again delayed a provision of the law and will allow insurance companies to continue offering plans that do not meet all of the new law’s standards until 2016. Allegations surfaced that CIA employees improperly monitored Senate Intelligence Committee staffers, prompting an investigation by the agency’s inspector general.  Sen. Kristen Gillibrand’s (D-NY) military sexual assault bill, which would remove some of the decision-making about prosecutions from the chain of command, fell short of the votes it needed to advance in the Senate Thursday.

Internationally, developments in Ukraine are being closely monitored as the standoff with Russia continues. Earlier in the week, Secretary of State John Kerry visited Kiev and offered $1 billion in an American loan guarantee to Ukraine. The Crimean government, backed by Russia, announced Thursday plans to hold a referendum on March 16 to ratify its decision to secede from Ukraine and join Russia. In an executive order, Obama ordered visa restrictions and the assets frozen of people who have “impeded democracy” in Ukraine, which may include both Russian and Ukrainian officials.

The Week's Top 5

Here’s a look at some of the top political stories of the week:

  • Obama’s Budget Is a Populist Wish List and an Election Blueprint—“President Obama sent Congress a $3.9 trillion budget request on Tuesday that stands as a platform for Democrats to run on in this election year, full of policies intended to invite contrasts with Republicans rather than offer compromises as he did last year, without success. Mr. Obama’s budget for the 2015 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, reflects his aspirations in his waning presidency, regardless of the political reality he confronts. The document, his sixth budget, seeks to energize Democratic voters with populist proposals like a more generous tax credit for the working poor, paid for with higher taxes on the rich…” (NYT) The budget request can be found here.

  • Obama orders freeze on assets of people who impeded democracy in Ukraine—“President Obama on Thursday ordered assets frozen and U.S. visas blocked for all persons determined to have impeded democracy, contributed to violence or engaged in corruption in Ukraine. An executive order signed Thursday morning does not specify who is included in the order, but senior administration officials said it would include both Russians and Ukrainians… The sanctions are the toughest measure yet as the United States and its European allies took steps to show their disapproval of Russia’s military moves in Crimea.” (WaPo)

  • Obama Gives Health Plans Added Two-Year Reprieve—“The Obama administration further postponed a provision of the Affordable Care Act on Wednesday, the latest in a series of changes that have delayed or pared back the health overhaul so much that many of its ambitious goals won’t be achieved during its first years in full effect…. The latest delay came Wednesday, when federal officials said insurance companies could continue selling plans that don’t meet the law’s more rigorous standards until 2016 in some instances. It was the second time the administration delayed that requirement after the law’s tougher standards prompted insurers to cancel millions of people’s health plans last year. The latest delay averts another raft of cancellations before this year’s midterm elections.” (WSJ)

  • Paul Ryan Says Some Poverty Programs Are Hurting the Poor—“As President Obama and congressional Democrats make their fight for economic inequality a repetitive theme in this midterm election year, House Republicans led by Budget Committee Paul Ryan want to redefine what “compassionate” aid for the poor should mean. The 2012 GOP vice presidential nominee released a report Monday that he says “takes stock” of the government’s decades-old web of antipoverty efforts – launching what is to be the Hose Republican fiscal messaging focus this year on reforming welfare and social programs. Titled “The War on Poverty: 50 Years Later,” the Budget Committee report comes a day before President Obama’s scheduled release of his fiscal 2015 spending plan…” (NJ)  The full report can be found here.

  • Democrats in Senate Reject Pick by Obama—“Senate Democrats on Wednesday rejected President Obama’s nominee to lead the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division in an embarrassing rebuke of the president on the choice of a key legal adviser and one that left White House officials “furious” with members of their own party. The nominee, Debo P. Adegbile, was litigation director of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund when it represented Mumia Abu-Jamal on an appeal of his death sentence for killing a Philadelphia police officer decades ago… it was the votes of seven Democratic senators to reject Mr. Adegbile that doomed the nomination…” (NYT)

The Week Ahead
The Senate and House are both in session again next week.

  • The second installment of information related to President Obama’s FY 2015 budget request is scheduled for release on March 11. Budget discussions will continue as committees or subcommittees hold hearings on individual agency budgets.

  • On Tuesday, the Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing on the nominations of Air Force General Paul Selva to be commander of the U.S. Transportation Command and Navy Vice Admiral Michael Rogers to be director of the National Security Agency, chief of Central Security Services, and commander of the U.S. Cyber Command.

  • Consideration of the Child Care and Development Block Grant legislation, which would provide federal money to fund daycare for low-income families, will likely continue next week.

  • Weekly schedules:

    • Although not yet released at the time of publication, the weekly legislative schedule for the House will be posted here.

    • The Senate schedule for the week of March 10 is available here.

    • Although not yet released at the time of publication, the President’s weekly schedule will be posted here.

Elections: 2014

With the 2014 mid-term campaign season already underway, here’s a look at some developments in the electoral landscape.

  • Retirements

    • There were no new retirement announcements this week. An analysis by Washington Post’s The Fix takes a look at how retirements in the 113th Congress, thus far, compare to those of past sessions - measured by total retirements, cumulative years of experience and the average years of service in each body.

  • Key Developments

    • The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) released the list of the first portion of their ”Red to Blue” districts indicating the first 16 target races heading into the midterms. The list highlights the challenge Democrats face in trying to regain a majority in the House, which will require a net gain of at least 17 seats. (NJ)

    • With Democratic candidates frequently relying on a growing female and minority electorate, some Democrats are turning their attentions to white working-class men. White males, a demographic in which Republicans generally capture more than 60% of the vote, become more important in midterm elections when the turnout rates of other demographics typically decline.

    • The annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) began on Thursday at the National Harbor in Maryland. The largest annual gathering of conservative leaders and activists, it is an important testing ground for major 2016 GOP presidential contenders. Scheduled speakers included Sen. Rand Paul (KY), Sen. Ted Cruz (TX), Sen. Marco Rubio (FL), Rep. Paul Ryan (WI), Gov. Chris Christie (NJ), Gov. Bobby Jindal (LA), Gov. Rick Perry (TX), former Gov. Sarah Palin (AK), and Donald Trump. CPAC’s closely watched Republican presidential nomination straw poll – won by Sen. Rand Paul last year – will be held Saturday.

    • Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has taken to the Senate floor three times in recent weeks to decry the conservative Koch brothers as “un-American” for their significant financial involvement in elections. Democratic strategists and aides said the Senator is trying to “make the Kochs the new faces of the GOP” ahead of the midterm elections.

  • 1st State Primary: Texas Results

    • Primary season officially began on Tuesday as Texas voters headed to the polls with mixed results for tea party challengers. Some highlights:

      • Senate GOP Primary: Incumbent John Cornyn defeated Rep.Steve Stockman (59.4%-19.1%).

      • Lt. Governor: Incumbent David Dewhurst was forced into a run-off after challenger Dan Patrick captured 41.2% of the vote.

      • TX-4 GOP Primary: Incumbent Rep. Ralph Hall was forced into a run-off after winning only 45.5% of the vote. One of his challengers, Lou Gigliotti who finished in third place, endorsed Hall over run-off challenger John Ratcliffe.

      • TX-32 GOP Primary: Incumbent Pete Sessions defeated Katrina Pierson (63.6%-36.4%).

      • TX-33 Dem Primary: Incumbent Marc Veasey defeated Tom Sanchez (73.5%-26.5%).

      • Land Commissioner: George P. Bush defeated David Watts (73.0%-27.0%).

  • Anti-Incumbent Mood: A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted February 27-March 2 shows anti-incumbent sentiment at the highest since it began asking the question in 1989.

    • Thinking about the next election in November, right now, are you inclined to vote to re-elect your representative in Congress, or are you inclined to look around for someone else to vote for?

      • 22% - Re-elect [NET CHANGE since Feb. 2012 = -12]

      • 68% - Look around [NET CHANGE since Feb. 2012 = +15]

Public Opinion
Intervention in Ukraine: According to a YouGov poll of Americans conducted March 1-2: 

  • Do you think the United States has any responsibility to protect Ukraine if Russia were to invade?

    • 18% - Yes

    • 46% - No

    • 36% - Not sure

  • Does the international community have a responsibility to get involved in the situation in Ukraine?

    • 30% - Yes

    • 28% - No

    • 42% - Not sure

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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