The Elevator Speech Overview

The House and Senate were both in session this week. A special election was held Tuesday in Florida’s 13th Congressional District to replace deceased Republican Congressman Bill Young. Both political parties and outside interest groups poured millions into the campaign in an effort to gain political momentum and bragging rights about the trajectory of the November mid-terms. Continuing his commitment to executive action, President Obama announced that he would be expanding overtime protections for millions of workers. In the Senate, Sen. Claire McCaskill’s sexual assault bill, which forces changes in military policy but does not remove prosecution decisions from the chain of command, was passed Monday. Tensions between the Senate Intelligence Committee and the CIA escalated Tuesday when Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) accused the CIA of trying to undermine the committee’s investigation of advanced interrogation tactics – allegations that were promptly denied by CIA Director John Brennan. Also Tuesday, the Senate sent legislation to President Obama that would authorize the $126 million of political convention funding to instead be designated for pediatric medical research. Thursday the Senate passed the Child Care and Development Block Grant Reauthorization Act, providing federal funds for daycare for low-income families, and the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act of 2013. A Senate panel approved aid for Ukraine and sanctions against Russia ahead of the Crimean succession referendum scheduled for Sunday.

The 4th round of US-EU trade negotiations for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) began Monday in Brussels. The U.S. continues to help in the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 that disappeared Saturday morning with 239 people on board.

The Week's Top 5

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

  • Republican David Jolly Wins Florida Congressional Race—“Republican David Jolly won a coveted congressional seat in central Florida on Tuesday, dealing Democrats a significant loss and energizing the GOP nationally as the parties gear up for midterm elections in November. The hard-fought race between Mr. Jolly, a 41-year-old Republican lobbyist, and Alex Sink, a 65-year-old former Florida chief financial officer, came down to the wire. IT drew millions of dollars from the national parties and outside interest groups testing strategies for the fall and vying for an early victory in 2014… The results are likely to embolden Republican candidates intent on attacking Democratic opponents over the troubled rollout of the federal health-care law. Mr. Jolly and his GOP supporter made Obamacare a centerpiece of their attacks on Ms. Sink, seeking to wed her to the law and calling for its repeal. She argued that while parts of the law were problematic, it should be preserved and improved…” (WSJ)
  • Feinstein: CIA searched Intelligence Committee computers—“A behind-the-scenes battle between the CIA and Congress erupted in public Tuesday as the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee accused the agency of breaking laws and breaching constitutional principles in an alleged effort to undermine the panel’s multi-year investigation of a controversial interrogation program. Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) accused the CIA of secretly removing documents, searching computers used by the committee and attempting to intimidate congressional investigators by requesting an FBI inquiry of their conduct – charges that CIA Director John Brennan disputed within hours of her appearance on the Senate floor… The dueling claims exposed bitterness and distrust that have soared to new levels as the committee nears completion of a 6,000 page report that is expected to serve as a scathing historical record of the agency’s use of waterboarding and other brutal interrogation methods on terrorism suspects…” (WaPo)
  • Senate Panel Approves Ukraine Aid, Sanctions on Russia—“The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday approved legislation including up to $1 billion in loan guarantees to Ukraine and sanctions designed to pressure Russia in its escalating dispute with the country… The Senate still must work out differences with House Republicans, who favor a narrower measure focused on providing up to $1 billion in support that cleared the House last week… Among other sanctions, the U.S. could revoke visas, freeze U.S. bank accounts, and block any of the targeted individuals from selling their U.S. homes… [the bill] included language to overhaul the finances and structure of the International Monetary Fund… House Republicans have resisted the overhauls, in part because of concern that the White House is using a crisis to advance its own agenda… U.S. lawmakers say they don’t need to approve the aid package this week and could wait until after the recess as long as Congress is sending a clear signal that financial support is on its way…” (WSJ)
  • Obama to order expansion of overtime pay—“President Obama plans to order new overtime protections for “millions of workers,” using his executive authority to revise regulations covering who should be paid extra for working more than 40 hours a week. A White House official said Wednesday that Obama would direct Labor Secretary Thomas Perez “to begin the process of strengthening overtime pay protections”… Political reaction on Capitol Hill was swift… Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) dismissed Obama’s plans as another example of the president’s unwillingness to engage with Congress… The White House did not say how administration officials plan to overhaul regulations to ensure that workers are better compensated… Today, most workers who make more than $455 per week are eligible to be classified [and thus exempted from overtime pay] as “executive, administrative and professional.” Workers earning less than that must be paid overtime…” (WaPo)
  • The Senate Has a Deal on Unemployment Insurance—–“Senate negotiators have reached an agreement [Thursday] on extending unemployment-insurance benefits to the 2 million jobless Americans who have not received their checks since the program expired in December... The agreement will extend for five months the federal unemployment-insurance program (which benefits those who have been out of work for at least six months). Because the new program will include retroactive benefits from December, the extension would expire for all beneficiaries in late May… Because of next week’s recess, a vote is not expected until after senators return to Washington on March 24… A Senate deal is still far from guaranteed to pass the House, where Republicans have expressed opposition to extending the benefits…” (NJ)

The Week Ahead
The Senate and House are both on recess next week before returning for another three-week work period.

  • Illinois will hold the second general primary contest of the year on Tuesday, March 18.
  • Led by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), a bipartisan group of eight senators will visit Ukraine March 13-16 for meetings with the interim government.
  • On Tuesday, President Obama will award the Medal of Honor to 24 Army veterans from World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.
  • On March 16, the southern peninsula of Crimea will hold a referendum on succeeding from Ukraine and joining Russia. With Russian troops currently occupying Crimea, the region is expected to choose to become part of Russia.
  • 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 24 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.
  • FL-13 Special Election
    • In the special election to replace the late Rep. C.W. Bill Young (R-FL-13), GOP candidate David Jolly defeated Democratic candidate Alex Sink (48.5% to 46.6%), despite being outspent by nearly a million dollars. The Republican victory in a swing district that Obama won in both 2008 and 2012 is a big blow for Democrats as both parties seek to extrapolate its national significance ahead of the 2014 midterm elections.
  • Key Developments
    • The Conservative Political Action Committee in National Harbor, Maryland concluded on Saturday, handing Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) his second consecutive victory in the Republican presidential nomination straw poll. While NJ Gov. Chris Christie standing with the conservative attendees has improved since last year (when he was not even invited), Sen. Marco Rubio (FL) and Rep. Paul Ryan (WI-1) received more lukewarm welcomes than in years past.
    • Several filing deadlines for primary ballot access passed this week, including: Montana (Monday); New Mexico, Oregon, and Pennsylvania (Tuesday); and Idaho, Iowa, and Nevada (Friday). In total, twenty-two states have now passed their filing deadlines.
    • The lieutenant governor’s race in Nevada has captured national attention as the race becomes a “proxy war” between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval (R), each strongly supporting their preferred candidate. With Gov. Sandoval expected to easily win reelection this year, he would be a potentially serious challenger to Sen. Reid in 2016 if there were a Republican lieutenant governor in place to succeed him in the governor’s mansion.
    • The Utah House passed legislation Monday that would allow it to hold its presidential primary by online voting a week before every other state, hoping to increase the state’s influence in presidential politics. If passed in the Senate, the change is expected to draw censure from the national political parties, which may shrink the state delegation in order to protect the traditional early Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary.

Public Opinion
According to a WSJ/NBC News poll conducted March 5-9:

  • Would you be more likely or less likely to vote for a candidate for Congress who…?
    • Supports cutting federal spending: +53 More Likely
    • Supports raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour: +29 More Likely
    • Favors new trade agreements with other countries: +24 More Likely
    • Has not previously held elective office: +19 More Likely
    • Is running as an independent candidate who is not affiliated with either political party: +18 More Likely
    • Supports repealing the health care reform law: +15 More Likely
    • Supports fixing and keeping the health care reform law: +3 More Likely
    • Believes America should be doing less to try to resolve conflicts around the world: +14 More Likely
    • Places a major emphasis on more conservative social and religious values: +13 More Likely
    • Supports reductions in defense spending to address the budget deficit: +4 More Likely