The Daily 202: Why blocking Obama’s pick to replace Scalia could cost Republicans their Senate majority – The Washington Post

President Obama ordered flags to fly at half-staff across the United States until Antonin Scalia, the longest-serving justice, is laid to rest. (AFP/Brendan Smialowski)

THE BIG IDEA:

Mitch McConnell has decided to wager the Republican majority in the Senate on blocking Barack Obama’s pick for the Supreme Court.

It’s a bold and understandable gambit designed to prevent a leftward lurch in jurisprudence after Antonin Scalia’s unexpected death this weekend, but it could backfire badly.

Assuming the president picks a Hispanic, African American or Asian American – bonus points if she’s a woman – this could be exactly what Democrats need to re-activate the Obama coalition that fueled his victories in 2008 and 2012. Even if he does not go with a minority candidate, the cases on the docket will galvanize voters who are traditionally less likely to turn out.

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Last night in Las Vegas, for example, Hillary Clinton said it would be nakedly partisan and unconscionable if Republicans don’t give a hearing to the president’s nominee. And she emphasized the immigration case that the justices recently agreed to hear. “Because of his passing, there will be most likely a tie, four to four, on important issues that affect so many people in our country,” the Democratic front-runner said. “And the most important is the decision about President Obama’s actions under DACA and DAPA. If there is no new justice appointed, then as with other cases before the court, the decision that was decided will stay in place. And that was a bad decision.”

Keep in mind that a quarter of Nevada’s population is Hispanic. Beyond being a battleground in the presidential race, there is also an open Senate race to succeed Harry Reid. Democrats will nominate a Latina and Republicans will nominate a white guy who is already in Congress.

Or take abortion rights. Marco Rubio is against abortion even in cases of rape and incest. For women, the prospect of Roe vs. Wade being overturned just became much more real. “When I’m president of the United States, I’ll nominate someone like Justice Scalia,” the Florida senator declared on the Sunday shows.

And environmentalists just this month saw the court put a stay on Obama’s Clean Power Plan. The next justice will be the swing vote who determines the future of coal in the United States. Though these sorts of cases mean that business interests will pour more money than ever into 2016 races, it could also help Democrats attract crucial suburban women who might lean to the right but worry about global warming.

More broadly, this could also undermine efforts by Senate Republicans to show that they are capable of governing and not just “the party of no.” Make no mistake: The upper chamber will grind to a standstill if the GOP follows through on this threat. Democrats who are inclined to work with them promise to stop doing so if Republicans play hardball.

McConnell (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

— Ultimately, though, there is not really anything Democrats can do procedurally to force Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley to hold a hearing on Obama’s nominee. The only lever they have is public pressure.

The most potent pressure points are the seven GOP incumbents who are up for reelection this year in states Obama carried in 2012. New Hampshire’s Kelly Ayotte and Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson publicly came out in favor of obstruction yesterday. The others are holding their cards close to the vest for right now: Ohio’s Rob Portman praised Scalia but would not address the core issue. Spokesmen for Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey declined to comment and Illinois’ Mark Kirk ignored inquiries, per CNN.

Pay particularly close attention to Portman, who is already vulnerable and could be wiped out if African Americans make up the same percentage of the electorate in 2016 as they did in 2012. They are likelier to vote if they believe he is disrespecting the first black president.

“I intend to continue to talk about this until the polls close,” former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, the Democratic candidate against Portman, told my colleague Paul Kane yesterday. “Senator Portman, who has your allegiance, your country or your party leaders? … The people have spoken, on two occasions,” he added, referring to Obama’s 2008 and 2012 victories.

Joe Biden and Ted Strickland at a Dairy Queen in 2012 in Nelsonville, Ohio. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

— Conventional wisdom is that whichever party wins the White House in November will control the Senate. That’s obviously the primary factor, but we’re not convinced it will be determinative. Democrats need to pick up four seats to win the Senate, and it’s conceivable they could get those from states that Clinton would probably carry even if she loses the Electoral College. In 2014, it’s worth recalling, Democrats lost each of the seven seats they had to defend in states Mitt Romney had carried two years earlier.

And remember that this won’t be happening in a vacuum: If Obama knows for sure that his pick is not going to get formally considered, he can go with someone who gives his party maximum political leverage to bludgeon these Republican incumbents. Monica Márquez is the first Latina and first openly gay justice on the Supreme Court in Colorado, which will again be a crucial swing state. Attorney General Loretta Lynch is an African American woman. Lucy Koh is the first Asian American district judge in the Northern District of California. He could also go with someone who was previously confirmed unanimously by the Senate to give additional rhetorical heft to his attacks that Republicans are being hypocrites.

Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch (Photo by Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)

— What’s the Republican political calculus? Blocking judges historically motivates their base – including donors and the U.S. Chamber – more than it does liberals. And they don’t think independents will really care all that much. It will just sound like more Washington noise. McConnell, not a favorite of the grassroots, also needs to keep his own base ginned up. Amidst a presidential primary, it is untenable for Republicans to look like rubber stamps for Obama.

Chris Christie offers a cautionary tale for GOP members. His bubble in New Hampshire was punctured when opponents began attacking him for offering support of Sonia Sotomayor while he was running for governor of New Jersey in 2008. Christie denied making comments he had made. Allies and rivals agree that the Sotomayor hit was a turning point for his campaign. Republicans who fear primary challenges, such as Alabama’s Richard Shelby, are never going to back any Obama nominee.

Most smart Republicans in D.C. still believe either Trump or Cruz would lose a general election. Their hope is that a Supreme Court vacancy might help galvanize conservative volunteers to go do work for endangered Senate incumbents.

Harry Reid (File)

— To be sure, not every Democrat has a clean nose on this: Harry Reid shortsightedly invoked the nuclear option in 2013, which allows non-Supreme court judges to be approved by a simple majority. This incensed Republicans and only accelerated the upper chamber’s decline to be more like the unruly House.

Lindsey Graham, one of just two current GOP senators who voted to confirm Elena Kagan during Obama’s first term, tells The Post that Reid poisoned the well by going nuclear. “I voted for every Supreme Court justice nominated by Bush and Obama. I believe the Senate should be deferential to qualified picks,” the South Carolina senator said. “But I did tell Harry Reid and the president that the consequence of changing the rules in the Senate to pack the court will come back to haunt them.”

George F. Will also zeroes in on Reid’s use of the nuclear option in his column today, which he describes as “institutional vandalism.” He frames the battle this way: “Scalia’s death will enkindle a debate missing from this year’s presidential campaign, a debate discomfiting for some conservatives: Do they want a passive court that is deferential to legislative majorities and to presidents who claim untrammeled powers deriving from national majorities? Or do they want a court actively engaged in defending liberty’s borders against unjustified encroachments by majorities?

— The big question right now: Will there even be a confirmation hearing?

McConnell’s Saturday night statement declaring that the vacancy should be filled by the next president did not rule out the possibility of a confirmation hearing or floor time to consider whoever the president picks.

That might be the more politically astute play, since Republicans could slow walk the vetting, trickle out negative revelations about the nominee to right-wing media outlets and then ultimately vote to reject the nominee. 

Having hearings could give some cover to purple state Republicans to say they are doing their jobs. “If the Republican leadership refuses to even hold a hearing, I think that is going to guarantee they’re going to lose control of the Senate,” said Patrick Leahy, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee.

Plus, even if Obama’s pick gets past the Judiciary Committee, they will be hard pressed to get confirmed by the full Senate. Fourteen Republicans would need to come out against Cruz’s promised filibuster. During Obama’s first term, when Democrats held a near super-majority, only nine Republicans voted for Sotomayor and five voted for Kagan.

Given that the Senate is on a President’s Day recess, White House spokesman Eric Schultz said Obama will not rush out an announcement this week. This gives both sides a few days to poll and focus group their options.

A former top adviser to the president says the GOP could have been savvier:

The smarter GOP play: Be skeptical now and wait to oppose a specific nominee. Pavlovian opposition makes the D argument so much easier

— Dan Pfeiffer (@danpfeiffer) February 14, 2016

— Another wildcard: How will the press cover this? One of the mainstream media’s problems is a really short attention span. What is unknowable today is whether this vacancy is a two-week story, a two-month story or a 10-month story? Also, is the narrative that Republicans are creating an unprecedented Constitutional crisis? Or is it played as a boring he-said, he-said storyline?

Democrats note that Obama still has the bully pulpit, so he can come up with creative ways to drive news coverage about the GOP’s failure to bring his nominee up for a vote. The party can also use paid media to target the vulnerable Republican incumbents.

— For both sides, it really is difficult to overstate the stakes: Scalia left an indelible mark on both the court and our country for nearly three decades, and his replacement could do the same. Ironically, if Clinton wins and Democrats retake the Senate after McConnell spends the year taking heat, she will have a mandate to put the most progressive justice imaginable on the bench. And Republicans will have no real grounds to oppose her. For McConnell, right now, that’s a risk worth taking.

Antonin Scalia in 2010 (Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)

— MORE SCALIA STORY LINES:

THE BUZZ AT THE CAPITOL: “Some hopeful Democrats now see the nomination of a sitting senator as the best chance Obama has to seat another justice on the Supreme Court before leaving office,” Juliet Eilperin and Paul Kane report. “There are several Senate Democrats who fit that description, including Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.), Christopher A. Coons (Del.) and Richard J. Durbin (Ill.). But individuals who have spoken with the White House about the nomination process … said the president is interested in a candidate who is young enough to serve an extended period of time. Only two of those senators — Klobuchar, at 55, and Coons, at 52 — are younger than 60, the age Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was when she was nominated.”

… But we hear that POTUS is more likely to go with someone who has already been confirmed and vetted. “Although Obama has installed fewer federal appellate judges than either Presidents Clinton or George W. Bush, he has put enough nominees on the bench that Democratic appointees are in the majority on nine of the nation’s 13 circuit courts,” Juliet and Paul note. “In that group, the 9th Circuit’s Paul J. Watford, a 48-year-old African American, and Sri Srinivasan, a 48-year-old judge on U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit who would be the first South-Asian American on the Supreme Court, would be the leading contenders. Others include the D.C. Circuit’s Patricia Ann Millett, 52, and Jane L. Kelly, 51, a judge on the 8th Circuit who was confirmed 96 to 0” with the support of Grassley.

— What does the loss of Scalia mean for cases currently on the docket? “In the short term, conservatives could still prevail on many of the cases before the court this term. But the wins could come in the form of tie votes that preserve the status quo rather than provide precedents that will shape the future,” writes Robert Barnes, our Supreme Court correspondent.

A big break for public employee unions: “At oral arguments, the court seemed prepared to hand a significant defeat to organized labor and side with a group of California teachers who claim that their free-speech rights are violated when they are forced to pay dues to the state’s teachers union. The court’s conservatives — Scalia included — appeared ready to junk a 40-year-old precedent that allows unions to collect an ‘agency fee’ from nonmembers to support collective-bargaining activities for members and nonmembers alike. But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, citing that precedent, had ruled for the union. And with the Supreme Court’s liberals seemingly united in upholding the precedent, a 4-to-4 vote would mean the union victory would stand.”

The law could be interpreted differently in different regions: “For instance, a Texas law that imposes new restrictions on abortion providers was found constitutional by a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit. A 4-to-4 tie would uphold that finding. But a similar law in Wisconsin was struck down and would be unaffected by the court’s tie in the Texas case.”

Barnes adds that, if Republican leaders hold firm, it will also affect which cases the justices choose to take up when the next term starts in October. (Read a breakdown of how four cases will likely be impacted here.)

This is the room where Justice Scalia was found dead. (Photo by Matthew Busch/Getty Images)

— Chaos, confusion and conflicting reports in the hours after Scalia’s death, which happened during a blue quail hunting trip. From Lana Straub, Eva Ruth Moravec, Sari Horwitz and Jerry Markon: After his body was discovered, it took hours for authorities in remote West Texas to find a justice of the peace. “When they did, she pronounced Scalia dead of natural causes without seeing the body and decided not to order an autopsy. A second justice of the peace, who was called but couldn’t get to Scalia’s body in time, said she would have ordered an autopsy. ‘If it had been me . . . I would want to know,’ Juanita Bishop, a justice of the peace in Presidio, Tex., told The Washington Post in an interview Sunday.”

Some details of his final hours at the Cibolo Creek Ranch, a luxury compound less than an hour from the Mexican border, remain opaque: “As late as Sunday afternoon, there were conflicting reports about whether an autopsy would be performed, though officials later said Scalia’s body was being embalmed and there would be no autopsy. One report, by WFAA-TV in Dallas, said the death certificate would show the cause of the death was a heart attack.”

The Texas flag flies at the entrance to the Cibolo Creek Ranch yesterday. (Photo by Matthew Busch/Getty Images)

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. President Obama and Vladimir Putin agreed to expand diplomatic and military cooperation to implement a cease-fire and aid delivery in Syria. On a call between the two this weekend, Obama stressed the importance of “rapidly implementing humanitarian access” to besieged areas, and urged the Russian president to cease air campaigns against moderate Syrian opposition forces. (Karen DeYoung)
  2. Meanwhile, the violence on the ground in Syria continued: Turkey shelled positions held by a U.S.-backed Kurdish militia for the second day in a row. (AP)
  3. Saudi Arabia launched a massive military exercise that will include troops from 20 nations, to project strength in the face of an ascendant Iran. (CNN)
  4. Afghanistan had a record number of civilian casualties last year due to Taliban suicide attacks and a fierce battle for the northern city of Kunduz. The country’s deteriorating security situation has led hundreds of thousands of people to flee, seeking refuge in neighboring countries or Europe. (Boston Globe)
  5. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised new measures to counter gun smuggling and stiffen Canada’s already tough gun laws. The move comes in response to increasing numbers of handguns and assault weapons in Canadian cities. (William Marsden)
  6. Two blood-building drugs could boost brain development and IQ levels in premature babies, according to a first-of-its-kind study. Premature infants who received the shot at birth scored an average of 12 points higher on IQ tests than untreated infants at age 4. (Lindsey Tanner)
  7. Several tourists on San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge were shot by blow darts. Police said the location of the victims’ wounds suggests that the darts were fired by a moving vehicle, and are working to determine if the attacks could have been caught on camera. (Peter Holley)
  8. A flight heading to New York was forced to turn back to London after a laser beam was pointed at the plane. The Virgin Atlantic flight was grounded overnight, and the airline said they are working with authorities to find the culprit. (BBC)
  9. A Disney cruise ship stopped on its journey from Miami to Grand Cayman to pick up 12 suspected Cuban migrants, whom they brought onboard and turned over to Grand Cayman authorities. (CNN)
  10. A Democratic state legislator in Kentucky introduced a bill that would force men seeking impotence drugs to jump through a series of procedural hoops beforehand, such as visiting a doctor twice and obtaining a note from their wives. The symbolic bill was proposed after Republican Gov. Matt Bevin signed an “informed consent” bill, requiring women to consult with a doctor at least 24 hours before an abortion. (Peter Holley)

POWER PLAYERS IN THE NEWS:

  1. President Obama said he would “very much” like to visit to Cuba during his presidency, but his diplomatic efforts may be thwarted by Zika: disease experts say the virus’ imminent arrival on the island is “almost certain.” (New York Times)
  2. John Kerry traveled to the Balkan nation of Albania for the first time to meet with the country’s prime minister. U.S.-Albanian relations have been solidified recently by the country’s strong support for U.S. counterterrorism efforts in the Middle East. (Karen DeYoung)
  3. CIA Director John Brennan, on “60 Minutes,” said it is “inevitable” that ISIS will try to attack the U.S. homeland. (The Hill)
  4. The Pope will visit Juárez this week as part of his six day tour through Mexico. The city was previously considered the “murder capital of the world.” (USA Today)
  5. Hip Hop artist Kanye West dropped his new album amid controversy: the attention-grabbing rapper tweeted he was “$53 million in personal debt” before his appearance on “SNL,” urging fans to “pray.” (CNN)

— Breanne Deppisch contributed to this report. 

Jeb! poses for a photo after Saturday’s debate in Greenville, S.C. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

— South Carolina is Ground Zero for the Republican race—

Ratings: 13.5 million watched the CBS debate on Saturday, surpassing the 13.3 million who watched last weekend’s debate on ABC and the 8 million who watched the Democratic debate in Milwaukee on PBS/CNN. (CNN Money)

Driving the day: Laura and George W. Bush headline a rally for Jeb in North Charleston tonight. “It tacks away from Bush’s months-long insistence that he’s running as ‘my own man,’ but could be a perfect fit for South Carolina,” the Associated Press notes in a curtain-raiser. “George H.W. Bush won twice here. In 2000, George W. Bush beat John McCain. Now it’s his brother’s turn.”

Kasich’s super PAC circulated a CNN clip from when Jeb said in New Hampshire last May, “I think that in Washington during my brother’s time Republicans spent too much money. He could have used the veto power. He didn’t have line item veto power, but he could have brought budget discipline to Washington, D.C.”

Republican leaders are predicting record turnout in Saturday’s primary: “The electorate here will be about twice as big as Iowa and New Hampshire combined,” said state GOP Chairman Matt Moore. “A third are very conservative, a third are somewhat; a third are moderate.” He’s quoted in a Charleston Post and Courier story about efforts to “restore South Carolina’s credibility in picking the eventual nominee.” From the piece: “GOP voters here chose correctly in all the party races since 1980 until the turnabout in 2012. ‘South Carolinians kind of blew it last time voting for Gingrich,’ said Clemson professor David Woodard, who thinks the state is Trump’s to lose. ‘They’re taking their ‘first-in-the-South primary’ and ‘we pick presidents’ to heart. There is a seriousness here that’s on display this time.’”

On the Sunday shows, Trump focused on Cruz. “Justice John Roberts gave us Obamacare twice,” Trump said on ABC. “He could have ended Obamacare twice. He got there because Ted Cruz pushed him like wild. … Cruz shouldn’t be talking because that was among the worst appointments I’ve ever seen. We have Obamacare because of Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush and George Bush.” Trump also emphasized Cruz’s personality: “No endorsements, no support — he’s a lone wolf. He’s going to get nothing done, he’s not a leader, he’s never employed anybody, never created a job. He’s a nasty guy, no matter how you figure it.”

… And Cruz focused on Trump: “If Donald Trump becomes president, the Second Amendment will be written out of the Constitution because it is abundantly clear that Donald Trump is not a conservative. He will not invest the capital to confirm a conservative, so the result will be the same whether it’s Hillary, Bernie or Donald,” Cruz said. “The Second Amendment will go away.” (Elise Viebeck)

Trump changed his explanation for why no one can find proof that he opposed the invasion of Iraq before 2003: “I wasn’t a politician so people didn’t write everything I said,” he said on “Meet the Press.” In September, he said there was ample documentation: “I’ll give you 25 different stories.” BuzzFeed notes that an August 2004 interview with Esquire is the first known instance of his public opposition.

Hillary on Friday in Denmark, S.C. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

— Democrats focused on next Saturday’s Nevada caucuses:

Both candidates courted the African American vote at the same Baptist church in Las Vegas. John Wagner relays an incredibly awkward scene: “Clinton and her motorcade already had arrived the Victory Missionary Baptist Church, located in an economically struggling neighborhood west of the Vegas Strip, when Sanders’s entourage pulled in with a police escort. Clinton was seated in the first row, on the left side. Sanders took a seat in the first row, on the right side. The candidates did not shake hands or talk.

  • “The Rev. Robert E. Fowler Sr. announced: ‘Senator Sanders, your camp contacted us first so you have the opportunity to go first.’ Clinton nodded a few times when Sanders talked about criminal justice reform and investing in education. She watched him speak from a large screen above and did not look at him directly.
  • “The pastor then let Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) introduce Clinton. The civil rights icon made headlines last week when he seemed to question Sanders’s commitment to the movement — walking those comments back the following day. On Sunday, Lewis talked only about Clinton.”
  • Then Clinton, from the pulpit, said: “I am not a single-issue candidate, and this is not a single-issue country. Because if we were to achieve everything about banks and money in politics, would that end racism? Would that make it automatically going to happen that people would be able to get the jobs they deserve, the housing they need, the education their children need to have?”

Later, Clinton stepped up her attacks on Sanders over health care in a Vegas suburb: “We both share the goal of universal health-care coverage, but he wants to start all over again,” she said at a rally after church. “And he wants to have a new system that would be quite challenging because you would have to give up the insurance you have now, and it would cost a lot of money. The goal is a good goal — I absolutely agree with that — but the last thing our country needs now is to be thrown into another contentious debate about health care.” (David Weigel)

The Las Vegas Sun endorsed Hillary.

The Review-Journal reports that Sanders has spent twice as much on TV ads in Nevada as Clinton, $2.93 million to $1.46 million.

Trolling HRC, the conservative super PAC American Crossroads launched a $42,000 digital buy to highlight hardline comments she’s made about illegal immigration during previous races. Watch here.

WAPO HIGHLIGHTS:

Donald Trump in the spin-room Saturday night. (Daniel Acker/Bloomberg)

— “Debate rips open GOP wounds, and party risks tearing itself apart,” by Robert Costa and Philip Rucker: “The GOP is at risk of tearing itself apart over its past as it heads into the thick of the primary season. A day after a debate marked by personal, petty exchanges, Republicans were grappling with their core beliefs, as well as the image they were broadcasting to the country … The increasingly harsh discussions of these and other issues amount to an existential crisis within the Republican Party and reflect the growing influence of non-ideological, populist voters. Contenders are making their most concerted effort yet to stop Trump [in South Carolina], even though previous attempts to take him down have attained little. The escalating quarreling may increase the likelihood of a long, expensive and potentially futile effort … As the candidates returned to the campaign trail, the mess they left behind on the stage of Greenville’s Peace Center had some party strategists wondering whether the damage may be politically irreparable.”

— “What made the friendship between Scalia and Ginsburg work,” by Irin Carmon: “Nino and RBG, the court’s most famous odd couple friendship stood as an example of warmth and professionalism across traditional divides … The reserved Clinton appointee and the bombastic Reagan pick had vastly different views on the constitution and the role of the court. And yet. One former clerk told us Scalia was Ginsburg’s favored souvenir shopping buddy when they traveled together. On a trip to India, they famously rode an elephant, with Scalia sitting up front. They shared New Year’s Eves with their families and friends. In 2010, when Chief Justice Roberts announced [Ginsburg’s husband] Marty’s death from the bench, Scalia wiped tears from his eyes … Whether or not it was how Scalia saw it, for Ginsburg their public friendship also made a statement about the court as an institution: that it was strengthened by respectful debate, that it could work no matter how polarized its members were.”

Syrian government forces raise their weapons last Thursday after taking control of the village of Kiffin, on the northern outskirts of the embattled city of Aleppo. (George Ourfalian/AFP/Getty Images)

— “A mini world war rages in the fields of Aleppo,” by Liz Sly: “Across the olive groves and wheat fields of the northern Syrian province of Aleppo, a battle with global dimensions risks erupting into a wider war. Russian warplanes are bombing from the sky. Iraqi and Lebanese militias aided by Iranian advisers are advancing on the ground. An assortment of Syrian rebels backed by the United States, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are fighting to hold them back. Kurdish forces are taking advantage of the chaos, [while] the Islamic State has snatched a couple of small villages … Syria’s civil war long ago mutated into a proxy conflict, with competing world powers backing the rival Syrian factions almost since the earliest days of the armed rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad. But perhaps never before have the dangers — or the complications — of what amounts to a mini world war been so apparent as in the battle underway for control of Aleppo.”

— Doug Sosnik’s take on the road ahead: The Democratic strategist, who served as a close adviser to Bill Clinton during his presidency, is known in Washington for insightful memos that diagnose the national mood. We got the latest one. Three nuggets jumped out—

Independents will see the 2016 election as a choice between the lesser of two evils: “This year’s Republican primary is the most rightward leaning since 1964, while Democrats have not been this far to the left since the 1972 campaign. As the parties have become increasingly ideological, Americans have drifted away from both of them. Self-identified independents are at near historic levels.In this period of profound alienation, with both parties engaging in harsh ideological primaries, the public is likely to view the entire political process as a race to the bottom. They will be inclined to view their choice for president through the prism of which candidate is the least flawed and poses the least threat to their future well-being.”

Obama’s approval rating is remarkably durable: “Since the summer of 2009, when these divisions began to intensify, Obama’s positive job approval ratings have remained flat, never going below 40% or above 53%. A closer look at these numbers shows the impact that age, race and income have had on his ratings. The narrow band reflects little movement from Obama’s core supporters, as well as steadfast opposition from his detractors.”

The Democratic primary in New York will matter: “In the period between the March primaries and the middle of April, fewer than 400 delegates will be selected. With the exception of the Wisconsin primary on April 5th, most of the attention will be focused on the New York (Wall Street) primary on April 19th. The last two key dates during the primary will be April 26th, when five northeastern states will select 384 delegates, and June 7th when California and five other states west of the Mississippi will hold elections.”

Read Sosnik’s 5-page memo here. See his 25-slide PowerPoint deck here.

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ, curated by Elise Viebeck:

Hillary and Bernie were in Las Vegas:

.@HillaryClinton meeting with NV Hisp Leg Caucus Chair Irene Bustamante Adams at Lee’s Sandwiches. pic.twitter.com/27IAGIAtlk

— Tim Hogan (@timjhogan) February 14, 2016

.@BernieSanders overflow crowd in Vegas pic.twitter.com/1UN6QBYju3

— E McMorris-Santoro (@EvanMcSan) February 14, 2016

Congressional Democrats spent all day ripping Republicans over the upcoming Supreme Court fight:

When @POTUS nominates his candidate for #scotus, the Senate should fulfill its constitutional duty and hold hearings/vote without delay.

— Senator Bob Casey (@SenBobCasey) February 15, 2016

The prospect of 4-4 decisions is not in the public interest. The Senate has an obligation to quickly consider the president’s nominee.

— Sen Dianne Feinstein (@SenFeinstein) February 14, 2016

Senator McConnell’s statement to block any nominee to #SCOTUS – no matter how qualified – is a perversion of the very notion of justice

— Senator Tim Kaine (@timkaine) February 14, 2016

How can the Senate be #backtowork if GOP refuses to take up @POTUS‘ nominee for #SCOTUS? Calling on Senate GOP to #doyourjob.

— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) February 14, 2016

The American people deserve a full Supreme Court.

— Senator Chris Coons (@ChrisCoons) February 14, 2016

Last time I checked, Barack Obama will be @POTUS for next 342 days. Senate needs fraction of that to confirm nominee pic.twitter.com/RX6lw6QGjG

— Rep. Jim McGovern (@RepMcGovern) February 15, 2016

Ayotte’s support for obstruction drew cheers from conservative activists:

Bravo @KellyAyotte May all of your colleagues be as direct and clear-thinking.

— Hugh Hewitt (@hughhewitt) February 15, 2016

Comedian Mindy Kaling jokingly wished a happy Valentine’s Day to one of the judges who could be on Obama’s short list:

Sri Srinivasan, happy Valentines Day!

— Mindy Kaling (@mindykaling) February 14, 2016

Donald Trump attacked the RNC for the donors at the debate:

Loved the debate last night, and almost everyone said I won, but the RNC did a terrible job of ticket distrbution. All donors & special ints

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 14, 2016

Tickets for future debates should be put out to the general public instead of being given to the lobbyists & special interests – the bosses!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 14, 2016

Finally, presidential candidates celebrated Valentine’s Day:

Along with the Obamas:

Happy Valentine’s Day! ❤ pic.twitter.com/fIwxaHSjgm

— DSCC (@dscc) February 14, 2016

Happy Valentine’s Day! pic.twitter.com/DebPQbCGtO

— The White House (@WhiteHouse) February 15, 2016

Along with plenty of lawmakers:

Happy #Valentines to Alma, my lovely wife of 50+ yrs, who made my dedication to public service possible 💗 pic.twitter.com/ydiXGYXPrw

— Charles Rangel (@cbrangel) February 14, 2016

#MyValentine

A photo posted by tulsigabbard (@tulsigabbard) on

Others joked about a presidential race that seems like it will never end:

Years from now, we’ll find Bush and Rubio and their super PACs still campaigning in far-flung primary states, like those Japanese soldiers.

— Nick Confessore (@nickconfessore) February 15, 2016

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

— “REVENGE OF THE POPULISTS” is the headline on the front page of The State to describe the success of Trump and Sanders. The Columbia, S.C., newspaper searches for historical antecedents: “Trump rails against immigrants, echoing the nativist, mid-1800s Know Nothing Party that grew out of fears that an influx of Catholic immigrants was threatening the American way of life. Sanders’ outcry against banks and corporations has its roots in the populist movement of the late 1800s, formed by a coalition of laborers and farmers, suffering, they said, under high loan and railroad rates that lined the elite’s pockets.”

The article emphasizes similarities in their messaging and supporters: “Angst over the economy — as in populist movements of the past — has led to similar lines of attack from Trump and Sanders.This is not a rising-tide-that-lifts-all-boats recovery,’ said Danielle Vinson, a Furman University political scientist. … Both Trump and Sanders, for instance, denounce trade deals … Both have taken more isolationist stances in foreign policy … Both also have cast Washington politicians as shills for corporate interests.”

— The State also looks at the 12 percent of South Carolina voters who say they are undecided: Retired oncologist Tripp Jones say his choice presents a dilemma in Saturday’s Republican presidential primary. None of the six candidates left in the GOP field fits the bill for Jones, a longtime Republican who ‘wants somebody who is going to take America to the next level but has common sense.’ Jones is among the 1-in-8 Republicans who are undecided as Saturday’s primary looms. Political ads do little for him. ‘I’ve got to settle on one, but I don’t have a clue yet who it will be,’ he said. Other voters plan to wait until the end. ‘I’m going to let it all play out,’ said Irmo Town Councilwoman Kathy Condom, who plans to vote Republican. ‘I’ll figure it out on the 19th (of February).’”

Who they are –> Politico, “The Whale That Nearly Drowned The Donald,” by Michael Crowley: “Akio Kashiwagi was a mysterious figure reputed to have underworld connections. He was one of the world’s top five gamblers, a ‘whale’ in casino parlance, willing to wager $10 million in a single gaming bender. After his murder, one unnamed executive told the paper that Kashiwagi had owed the Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino $4 million … The story of Kashiwagi, drawn from Trump’s memoirs and news accounts from the day, offers a revealing window into Trump’s instincts. It shows that Trump isn’t just a one-time casino owner—he’s also a gambler, prone to impulsive, even reckless action. Trump is obsessed with winning, a topic he usually brings up in the context of his merciless deal-making style. But a crucial question about any would-be president who may be confronted with questions of war and peace is his attitude toward risk. Some presidents are highly averse to it … Others roll the dice.”

— The Atlantic, “The ‘New Look’ of the Post-Obama Electorate,” by Theodore R. Johnson: “In 2008, when then-Senator Barack Obama rode the highest black voter turnout in U.S. history to the White House, black voters felt The Look had been exchanged … African American voters felt that a black president could give them special attention and understand black America’s grievances better than any other. It wasn’t favoritism African Americans sought; they simply wanted an acknowledgement that structural racism is real and some executive resolve to address it from the first president to have experienced it firsthand. But things haven’t gone quite as they had hoped. The welled-up hope that racism would be a presidential priority and undergo an incremental process of amelioration began to slowly dissipate in the face of politics as usual … And frustration has given rise to a new generation of black voters and activists, a generation who uses more overt and dynamic techniques to influence the political agenda.”

–The New Yorker, “Can Cruz Beat Trump on Conservative Principles?,” by Ryan Lizza: “Ted Cruz is the best political tactician in the Republican race. But for all of Cruz’s tactical successes so far, he made one enormous mistake: he misunderstood the threat posed by Trump. By repeatedly praising Trump throughout 2015, Cruz did more than any other Republican to validate the reality-TV star as a true conservative … Cruz, the most well-funded conservative, stuck to his hug-Trump strategy until just a few days before the Iowa caucuses. At the CBS debate, [he] tried desperately to undo that damage, and his attempt to unmask Trump as a closet liberal led to the most fiery exchange of the evening. And now there is a new accelerant to the Cruz–Bush campaign to turn Trump into a liberal: Antonin Scalia’s death. For many ideological conservatives, the makeup of the Supreme Court is the most important issue in America … [and] the success of Cruz’s campaign may depend on that fight.”

New York Times, “A Leisurely Return for the New York State Legislature,” by Jesse McKinley: “Last week, [New York’s] 213 elected lawmakers — or as many who were able to attend — gathered for a couple of hours, passed a few minor bills and some well-meaning resolutions, and then formally adjourned for a 14-day winter break, officially ending their workweek. The time was 1:32 p.m. On a Tuesday. Two months after the corruption convictions of Sheldon Silver and Dean G. Skelos, the former leaders of the State Assembly and Senate … that sense of urgency has seemingly dissipated, unable to penetrate the intractable culture of Albany: The 2016 Legislature has yet to offer any new bills related to ethics reform, and the leaders have been noncommittal on a raft of proposals made by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. The state’s lawmakers have responded with a leisurely return to well-established habits, marked by two-day weeks in the capital, six-minute floor sessions and a collection of one-house bills with little or no chance of becoming law.”

HOT ON THE LEFT

Bill Maher lit a joint to make a sobering point about legal pot. From the Huffington Post: “If you’re for legalizing it, put down the Cheetos and listen up. As part of his new rules on Friday’s ‘Real Time,’ Bill Maher implored those who are for a completely weed-legal America to ‘get your head out of your grass.’ Though some think legalized pot is a forgone conclusion, Maher said ‘progress doesn’t just automatically snowball.’ The TV host brought up how more than 500 dispensaries have been shut down in Los Angeles and dispensaries ‘still can’t get banking services.'”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT

UVA student launches Trump-themed campaign for student government. From the Washington Examiner: “Erich Reimer wants to make University of Virginia Law great again. He wants to build a wall between the law school and the business school. UVA Law just doesn’t win anymore. ‘Let’s be honest, when Main Grounds sends its people, they aren’t sending their best and brightest,’ the second year law student complains in a Donald Trump-themed campaign for the school’s student council … One twist: Reimer supports John Kasich, not Trump, for president.”

DAYBOOK:

— Happy President’s Day.

— At the White House: President Obama is still in California, where he’ll meet with leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Rancho Mirage throughout the day.

— On the campaign trail: Bernie Sanders is in Ypsilanti and Dearborn, Mich., while John Kasich stops in Allendale, East Lansing and Utica. Hillary Clinton is in Elko and Reno, Nevada. The rest of the field is in South Carolina. Here’s the rundown:

  • Bush: North Charleston (with George W. Bush)
  • Rubio: Rock Hill, Florence, Gilbert
  • Trump: Greenville
  • Cruz: Aiken, Camden, Florence
  • Carson: Spartanburg

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

“Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s campaign manager, said Bush must have chugged a Monster energy drink before Saturday’s debate because he suddenly had more fight in him.” (Jenna Johnson)

NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:

— I guess this is what they call a “wintry mix”? “After an overnight burst, snow may be slow to get going early on, but should pick up by mid-morning,” the Capital Weather Gang forecasts. “During the course of the afternoon, snow likely changes to sleet and freezing rain from south to north. Temperatures remain below freezing keeping those untreated surfaces very slick. Highs range from 25-30.”

DC Council member Yvette Alexander (Photo by Matt McClain for The Washington Post)

INTRIGUE: Vince Gray is running against the woman he anointed to succeed him on the D.C. Council. “His former protege insists she is not retreating,” Paul Schwartzman reports. “Yvette Alexander, in an interview, accused Gray of challenging her as a first step toward a 2018 mayoral bid that would avenge his loss to Muriel E. Bowser in the 2014 Democratic primary. ‘He’s just trying to get his foot in the door,’ Alexander said. ‘If Vince Gray is honest about it, he would tell the truth and say, ‘I want to run for mayor. I want to get revenge.’ That’s who he is, and Ward 7 knows it.’” She also suggested that he didn’t get indicted because he “had a very good attorney.” Gray spokesman Chuck Thies fired back: “Vince doesn’t feel that she has grown in the job. When you’ve been there for eight years and you’re not an influential council member, it’s time for you to go. At this point, Yvette is just taking up space. That’s not Vince’s fault.”

A year-long study of Alexandria’s historic buildings revealed that many need immediate – and expensive– renovations that could cost the city hundreds of millions. (Patricia Sullivan)

— Prince William County supervisors have given up on their efforts to reduce concealed-carry permit fees after the measure failed in a recent vote. (Jonathan Hunley)

Parents in Southeast Washington have begun interviewing teachers for a new charter school, Rocketship, which is set to open next year in Ward 8. The D.C. Public Charter School Board voted in 2013 to allow the California-based charter operator to open as many as eight schools in the District. (Perry Stein)

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Bill Clinton seemed to downplay Obama’s status as the first black president, saying “we’re all mixed race people”:

Ted Cruz released ads hitting Donald Trump on judicial nominations and Planned Parenthood:

In an old clip, Elena Kagan talks about hunting with Scalia:

Paul Ryan shared his Valentine’s Day plans:

My #ValentinesDay plans? Cooking dinner for my wife tonight.https://t.co/8PL76OUUgx

— Paul Ryan (@SpeakerRyan) February 14, 2016

Jeanette Rubio talked about falling for Marco:

Jeanette Rubio shares about when she and Marco started dating, and what she loves most about him. #ValentinesDayhttps://t.co/Vzc0ipM0Bi

— Team Marco (@TeamMarco) February 15, 2016

Campaign chairman John Podesta called this voter-generated video about Hillary “awesome”:

Watch a polar bear at the Toronto Zoo see snow for the first time!

Sent from my Tricorder

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