Ask Aaron: This week in politics

Jun 25, 2013

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

TODAY: The latest on the big Supreme Court decision on the Voting Rights Act and what's in store for tomorrow's session.

Hey everyone, and welcome to the latest 'Ask Aaron' live chat.

Obviously today the Supreme Court is on the tip of everyone's tongue, but we've got major developments on climate change and immigration too -- not to mention there's a special election in Massachusetts today.

Sow what's on your mind? Ask away...

What are the chances that Section 4 of the VRA even gets a serious debate (or even Judiciary Committee hearing) in the House? Assuming Reid will at least bring it up in the Senate as a message piece, but I'm curious how Republicans view the politics of essentially letting the VRA die. Will they feel pressured to at least give it some attention?

Odds of the House GOP seriously moving to replace the struck-down Section 4 language = somewhere in that narrow window we like to call "between slim and none."

The fact is, the only way Democrats can force the GOP-controlled House to act is if there's a huge public outrcry that makes Boehner, et. al., nervous. And polling today suggests that half of Americans are just fine with the Voting Rights Act being shown the door.

If Democrats can't force Republicans to embrace background checks and a path to citizenship -- even as a strong majority of Americans support both -- there's little reason to believe they'll force the GOP's hand on an inside-baseball thing like Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act.

If most Republicans aren't all that concerned about losing the Latino vote by thwarting comprehensive immigration reform, they're not going to be concerned about losing African-American votes (95 percent Democratic) over the Voting Rights Act.

Typically almost every day, there is an article somewhere on where it says that immigration reform is on track to succeed, etc. Then somewhere else on the website, at the very same time, there is another article stating that really all the power is with Boehner and he probably will refuse to let it even come up for a vote in the House. Is there anyone there at the Post who could play the part of an adult and try to make sense of these diametrically opposite viewpoints?

I think what's happening is that congressional leaders and the White House are projecting optimism, but analysts are seeing it as more and more doubtful.

What we know:

1) The House almost surely won't pass the Senate bill, unless Speaker Boehner nixes the Hastert Rule (requiring bills voted on to get a majority of the majority party's votes) and passes it with only a handful of GOP votes, which would imperil his job.

2) The House will more likely pass its own bill, sending the matter to a conference committee. The conference committee report will have to be tougher on border security than the Senate bill and less strict than the House bill. Whatever results will have a difficult time getting House GOPers on-board without losing Democrats in the Senate.

In the end, I'm just not even sure a majority of House Republicans will support anything with a path to citizenship. Meaning whatever passes would need to pass without the Hastert Rule.

Of course, passing something with 100 GOP votes (less than half) is different than passing it with 30. In the former case, Boehner could probably keep his job. He needs to find that balance.

What is it like to cover politics nowadays when everybody in office seems to be a hypocritical moron, bipartisanship has basically stopped and Congress will never get anything done? Doesn't it drive you nuts?

I know other journalists who are going mad right now. I find the whole thing very interesting. John Boehner's attempt to lead his conference is frustrating for him but fascinating to me.

When it comes to drama, there's no shortage of it in Washington right now. Now, you can make an argument that it's terrible for the country, but as a political journalist, it's at least very interesting to watch and analyze.

But maybe I'm just a cup-half-full guy.

I actually think you're completely wrong. Sorry-I'm not trying to be mean. I just think VRA resonates so much that it's not inside baseball. If people won't be motivated in 2014, then the results from a lack of a strong VRA will be huge in 2016. Either way, there will be an effect.

Reasonable people can reasonably disagree. But the polls suggest this isn't really a bipartisan issue.

The fact is that there are people who are very passionate about it and will likely vote on it. But these are also people that Republicans were probably never going to win over and won't try to.

Wondering if you think Scott Brown will take the plunge and run for Governor in 2014. I tend to think he won't. Mainly because the legislature has a veto override. A Republican in that job has no power.

As Mitt Romney found out, being a Republican governor in a heavily, heavily Democratic state is something of a thankless job.

But also remember that Romney got some things done, including health care, which he saw as his crowning achievement until it became a presidential liability.

Brown is a middle-of-the-road guy who might enjoy being governor and working with Democrats. That said, he probably couldn't get things done as governor and also expect to be a successful future presidential candidate -- not these days at least.

What do you think Rick Perry will do in 2014? If he decides to run will AG Greg Abbott run against him?

Perry says Abbott won't run against him if he runs again, but Abbott's folks have not said what the basis for that claim is. It could simply be Perry being Perry.

My best guess is Perry runs for reelection. That's based on nothing more than suspicion and watching the guy operate, but it's what I believe.

He's seems like a guy who has a bit of seniority, is he up for any chairmanship's if the GOP take over the senate?

Burr is currently the ranking member on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, which suggests he'd take it over if the GOP got the Senate back.

IRS scandal! IRS scandal! IRS scandal! It's leading the news, covered with tons of stories. The correction gets nowhere near the same amount of coverage. That's not fair and it gives politicians an incentive to make crazy allegations to a scandal-loving press corps.

The news yesterday that the IRS also targeted groups with names like "progressive" and "occupy" has certainly not gotten much ink, but neither has anything else in the IRS scandal for the last week-plus.

There seems to be some question about whether these groups got the same level of scrutiny as conservative groups did. But regardless, how in the world did it take the IRS this long to determine that liberal-leaning groups were also targeted? If they were being equal opportunity offenders, they would have wanted to reveal that a long, long time ago.

The fact that they didn't make that argument initially suggests either 1) they have thoroughly botched the PR campaign on this one, or 2) the level of scrutiny wasn't the same.


A)Is Tom Corbett the first incumbent to lose since the stone age? B) Can you see Bob Casey jumping into the race? Seems to be the job he always wanted.

One of the most fascinating bits of trivia in politics: Since Pennsylvania got rid of its one-term limit in 1968, no governor has lost a reelection campaign.

I think the Democratic field is largely set. I don't think Rep. Alyson Schwartz (D-Pa.), for instance, would get in this race if Casey hadn't ruled it out. That's how these things generally work. 

That said, Corbett is looking like maybe the most vulnerable incumbent outside of Lincoln Chafee. 

Has Ryan given at indication on what he will do in 2016?

The conventional wisdom on him is that he works his way up in the House and hopes to become speaker one day. Of course, I'm not sure how attractive that option is given Boehner's experience.

We shall see, but I don't see him doing much that suggests a 2016 presidential bid. And for would-be presidential candidates, there's no time like the present.

Will the bill actually introduced in the House compelling any Federal civil service employee who takes the 5th Amendment while testifying before Congress to be fired? Or is it just more right-wing posturing?

I don't see this as a serious legislative effort, so much as trying to make a point, and I have a hard time seeing how it would stand up in court.

Then again, I'm not a lawyer.

How many people would've felt terrible had Rusty not been recovered in good shape? I'm kind of kidding but also disappointed that people would be so snarky about an animal we care for. I'm a pet owner though.

The temptation to snark about serious things on social media is a continuing dilemma. The Fix and I like to have fun, but we and everyone else need to be cognizant that some people don't like when you joke about things that are sensitive to them.

And yesterday, Rusty the Panda sure seemed to strike a chord with many people in Washington. We're glad he's safe.

Long live Rusty.

If you are Bill Nelson, why would you not want to take on Rick Scott? Being the head executive of the largest swing state seems more appealing than being a back bencher in the senator right now.

Don't forget: Scott may spent $100 million on his reelection campaign. That's a lot of money that can be used to sully the reputation of an otherwise respected senator.

Also, Nelson isn't really a back-bencher. In fact, he's among the 30 most senior members of the Senate and has a chairmanship (the Aging committee). That's not nothing.

If David Vitter's decides to run for Louisiana Governor in 2015, would he be able to clear the field?

I don't think so. The fact is that Democrats have been unable to run real candidates for statewide office, which means plenty of weird things can happen under the state's open primary system.

Vitter has pretty good numbers these days, in spite of his sex scandal, but it's too big a prize for him to get a free ride, in my opinion.

Has Maine Governor LePage stuck his foot into his mouth one too many times now to be able to win reelection, even in a 3-way race? Or will one of his opponents drop out and clear the way for the other?

Democrats are banking that Eliot Cutler (I) won't do nearly as well now that Rep. Mike Michaud (D) is in the race. Cutler really benefitted from a weak Democratic nominee in 2010, when he ran second behind LePage.

But when an incumbent governor only needs 38-40 percent of the vote to win, he or she can win even when he or she is pretty unpopular. Don't count LePage out just yet.

Who out there can make it through the Tea Party voters who enthusiastically show up for the presidential primaries, but then still get 51% of the general electorate? By the time Romney had satisfied everyone in March & April, he was doomed for November. As a old Democrat, I finally see the Republicans doing what the Democrats did before Clinton, that no one was liberal enough back then for the Democratic primary voters.

It's a big question. Romney wasn't a tea party guy, but he certainly marginalized himself on things like self-deportation. If anybody should have been able to argue that he's a moderate, it should have been Romney.

What the GOP needs is a gifted messenger who can talk the conservative talk in the primary and then pivot in the general election. Romney wasn't able to do that effectively, but that doesn't mean it can't be done.

That said, it's a big issue for the GOP right now.

When nothing ever gets done, it doesn't really matter how senior you are. Maybe you get the front row on the Congressional underground subway.

Have you SEEN the subway!? It's fantastic.

I heard on one of te cable shows that a number of republicans want to change their vote from Nay to Yes. Do you know who those are?

The rumor has been out there for a while that people like Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) might be open to doing so, but it's really died off. I just don't see the impetus for a gun control re-hash being there -- especially when folks like Flake and Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) aren't up for reelection for a while.

If they were up in 2014, it might be a different story. But no GOP swing state senators are up next year.

I'm surprised that Collins is not more vulnerable than she is right now. What is the reason for this?

She destroyed a sitting Demcoratic congressman (Tom Allen) by 22 points in 2008, which also happened to be a darn good year for Democrats.

Maine is a political state unto itself, and it continues to be just fine with a moderate Republican like Collins. That said, if she weren't an incumbent, it might be a different story. When she leaves, though, Republicans will probably lose that seat.

I assume that since you're from the Land of 10,000 Frozen Lakes you were watching the Stanley Cup Finals last night?

I'm a college hockey fan. The day the North Stars went to Dallas (!?), I gave up on the pro game.

Go Gophers!

On Gene Weingarten's chat today, a reader (not me) suggested that Anthony Weiner doesn't really want to be Mayor of New York City and isn't really running for the office -- but that by putting his name out there now (letting all the attendant jokes run their course) he'll be neutralizing voter backlash so it won't be so severe when he later runs for an office he truly desires, e.g., Governor of New York. Agree?

I have a hard time seeing Weiner wanting to be governor. Mayor is the job he has long wanted and previously ran for. I just don't see it.

For him, I think, he just made the calculation that this could be the last open mayoral race in a long time, and he wanted to give it a whirl.

My guess is that Flake would have voted for that bill, because he supposedly is close with Gabby Giffords. However, since he is so out in front on immigration reform, he did did not want to get tagged as a social moderate, which can be a career killer in a state like Arizona. Any validity to that theory?

Could be. You can't look at each of these votes in isolation. Members don't want to stick their necks out on too many votes, and that could be the calculation that Flake made. Keep in mind: He's still from a red state.

Thanks everyone for a truly spirited chat today.

And make sure to check back next Tuesday at 2 p.m. for the next edition.

And also make sure to tune into Post Politics at 10 a.m. tomorrow for our live blog on the Supreme Court's gay marriage decision(s).

Have a great day!

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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