Ask Aaron: This week in politics

Jun 11, 2013

Aaron Blake chats with readers in his new weekly Post Politics chat series.

Hey everyone, and welcome to the latest episode of "Ask Aaron."

Today I'll be taking questions about Edward Snowden, the NSA, immigration reform, Senate races in Massachusetts and New Jersey, Hillary's Twitter account, and anything else you care to chat about.

So send you're questions now, and let's get started...

Will Boehner enforce the Hastert rule WRT immigration? I just don't know if Boehner cares if the next 10 Republican presidential candidates never get another Hispanic vote if it means he will lose his speakership.

I believe the answer is no.

You make a fair point that Boehner risks his good standing with the party faithful by breaking the Hastert Rule -- which is supposed to prevent bills from coming to a vote unless a majority of the majority party supports it. But this is really just inside baseball that most people will never care about.

If Boehner effectively halts immigration reform because he was unwilling to break the rule, on the other hand, he becomes the guy who prevented the GOP from passing legislation it needs to appeal to Latinos, and it risks really painting his legacy in a negative light.

Plus, Boehner himself has said the Hastert Rule isn't actually a rule (which is true). Clearly, he knows he will probably have to break it to get some big bills passed. Immigration could very well be one of those cases.

Aaron, If ever there were a "slam-dunk" case of perjury, it would be the sworn testimony that James Clapper gave to the Senate in March, 2013. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, testifying under oath before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on March 12, 2013, responding to questions from Senator Wyden, Democrat of Oregon: Wyden: “Does the NSA collect ANY type of data AT ALL on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?” Clapper: “No, sir.” Is there any chance that Clapper will be arrested and tried for this crime, or do laws only apply to ordinary citizens, and not to those who swear under oath to uphold the Constitution? Many thanks! Signed, Already under suspicion for asking this question

Sen. Ron Wyden's (D-Ore.) statement today on Clapper's testimony has to be very concerning for Clapper and the administration. And Clapper's comments this weekend that he was attempting to give the "least untruthful" answer probably don't help.

What's clear: Clapper's answer, taken at face value, was incorrect.

What's less clear: Whether Clapper intended to mislead anybody. Wyden seems to suggest he did, noting that he was given the question in advance (a standard practice) and given a chance to amend his response after the fact.

What's unlikely: That Clapper would be convicted of perjury. In order for there to be perjury, you have to prove a whole lot of things besides merely that Clapper said something that was false. 

All of that said, the statement is clearly problematic for the administration. Even if it's not perjury, it's a public relations disaster.

Does the rise of the NSA story (and the fact that a majority of Americans approve of data collection) help Obama because it removes the IRS story from the front page and from D.C. discussions?

I do tend to think that the IRS story is more fertile ground for political hay-making (perhaps I'm mixing metaphors here), so you raise a valid point.

The fact is that right now this NSA story has legs because 1) a very vocal minority is pushing it, 2) it's the hot new thing, and 3) the criticism is bipartisan.

That said, while the debate over privacy is totally valid, it's hard to see this leading to some kind of smoking gun or broken laws.

The political upside of the IRS scandal, it seems, is significantly higher for Republicans. But as of right now, shoes seemed to have stopped dropping on that one.

Is George Norcross, the boss of South Jersey, endorsing Cory Booker, a sign that he sees a Booker victory as inevitable, and he wants to be on the winning sign?

I think so. If Norcross thought a South Jersey candidate had a shot, he would have recruited one.

I think he saw Booker as the likely senator -- especially given the condensed two-month primary -- and decided to join the winning side.

Everyone loves a winner.

Lonegan fatigue? Will Gov. Christie have no choice other than back upstart candidate Eck for GOP given Lonegan/Christie bad beef?

Option 3: Christie stays out of it, citing the fact that he has to run his own race. That would certainly burnish his bipartisan credentials. (Plus, I think he genuinely likes Cory Booker.)

The national GOP seems unlikely to line up behind Lonegan, so Christie really has no reason to get involved. And he's got a good excuse too.

How's that for a Massachusetts Senate prediction?

I think it's about right, but two weeks is a LONG time in a Massachusetts special election. Martha Coakley was still leading at this point in 2010.

Which Republican line is prevailing right now: the John Boehner-Lindsey Graham view that Snowden is a traitor, or the more civil libertarian view pushed by Rand Paul?

I think there are more people on the Boehner/Graham side of things. Heck, even Paul said today he was "reserving judgment" on Snowden's leaks. 

I expect Congress -- with a few notable exceptions possibly eventually including Paul -- will join with the Boehner/Graham side eventually, even if some of them have concerns about the programs themselves.

I was saddened and amused by the graphs showing how R's and D's flipped their stance on domestic spying when the President's chair flipped from R to D. What other issues show such a dramatic change in polling as the President's office changes political parties?

Pretty much anything having to do with presidential power and prerogatives.

Whichever side has the president is much more likely to back that president when it comes to executive orders, lattitude in appointments, national security and going to war. The party that's out of power often trends toward libertarianism. The GOP was dominated by foreign policy hawks and Patriot Act supporters less than a decade ago; now it's the party that could very well nominate Rand Paul for president.

This is a long way off, but of these Republican senators up in 2016, who seems most vulnerable right now: Mark Kirk Ron Johnson Kelly Ayotte Rob Portman Pat Toomey Marco Rubio Richard Burr My personal choices are Kirk (popular personally, but very Democratic state) and Johnson (less Democratic state, but far less popular). Portman and Burr seem safest.

1. Johnson (because he's a pretty unapologetic tea party guy)

2. Toomey (blue state)

3. Kirk (blue state but a real moderate profile, and his personal recovery story is compelling)

4. Ayotte (she's being pulled in all directions)

5. Rubio (Florida Dems don't have much of a bench)

6. Portman (solid record, gay marriage support helps if he avoids a priamry)

7. Burr (thin Democratic bench in N.C.)


Can you explain the real reason Christie decided to waste millions of dollars by scheduling a special election only 3 weeks before the regular election? There must be a political reason for such waste.

I wrote about this after it happened. Basically, I think Christie made the one decision that was unlikely to be overturned in court.

No matter what he did, he was going to get guff for it. I think this is something that will be used against him, but it's pretty inside-baseball for your average voter.

I actually like Jeb Bush as a reasonable Republican and am a big fan of Hillary, but don't these people realize that the country is not interested in extending the 16 years of Presidents Bush 41,43 & Clinton? Can't they just retire for the good of the country? Some of us voted for a no name Senator from Illinois in the primary just to avoid Hillary and some of my Republican friends believe in ABB (anybody but Bush).

Here's where this argument breaks down: Democrats still pine for the days of Bill Clinton, and Republicans' memory of George W. Bush is increasingly positive.

People in the middle may be tired of the first families of politics, but their names are the equivalent of the Good Housekeeping seal of approval; you know what you're getting into, even if it's not everything you wanted.

If Obama's next couple years are particularly difficult, you may well find people pining for a familiar option, be it a Bush or a Clinton.

That said, I don't think Jeb will run.

How many would vote for an immigration bill passed by the Senate?

It is just so hard to say right now -- especially given the Senate bill is still being amended -- but I think at least half of House Republicans (and possibly many more) wind up voting against it, and Boehner is forced to break the Hastert Rule if it is to pass.

I think Ed Markey, Rush Holt and Frank Pallone are all discovering the same thing -- that many congressmen -- even long-serving ones -- aren't well-known outside their districts, especially in big media markets. (Not that I don't expect Markey to win).

And being a member of Congress doesn't help either. It's a good way to build a war chest, but it's a bad way to appeal to voters.

I think he could make a decent run at the GOP nomination, but I doubt that he will win. Too many leading Republicans are DEEPLY suspicious of his foreign-policy views, even if he is more moderate than his dad.

I think the jury is still out on this. Paul is certainly more pragmatic than his dad, but there will always be those that wonder what his true beliefs are and what he would do as president.

This would be the major argument against him in a GOP primary, and it would make for some fascinating debates.

Rubio, Walker, Paul seem definite to run. I don't think Jeb Bush, Paul Ryan, or Susana Martinez run. Probably not Rick Perry either. Not sure right now about Rick Santorum (Walker has a lot of appeal to his constituency). I wonder if Christie or Jindal run if their chances look bad. Who am I missing?

I think you're right about most of this. But I think you're missing two names: John Kasich and Mike Pence.

Thanks everybody for showing up to the latest edition of "Ask Aaron."

That's it for today, but make sure to join us next week. Same bat time, same bat ... website.

In This Chat
Aaron Blake
Aaron Blake covers national politics at the Washington Post, where he writes regularly for the Fix, the Post's top political blog. A Minnesota native and summa cum laude graduate of the University of Minnesota, Aaron has also written about politics for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and The Hill newspaper. Aaron and his wife, Danielle, live in Annandale, Va.
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