CNN's GUT CHECK | for December 21, 2012 | 5 p.m.
- n. a pause to assess the state, progress or condition of the political news cycle
DEVELOPING: OBAMA NOMINATES JOHN KERRY TO BE SECRETARY OF STATE… “Over these many years, John's earned the respect and confidence of leaders around the world,” Obama said at the White House announcement. “He has earned the respect and trust of his Senate colleagues, Democrats and Republicans. I think it's fair to say few individuals know as many Presidents and Prime Ministers or grasp our foreign policies as firmly as John Kerry and this makes him a perfect choice to guide American diplomacy in the years ahead.” – Jessica Yellin and Joe Sterling
PAGING SCOTT BROWN: Poll: Brown in good position to win ticket back to Senate… A WBUR survey released Thursday indicates that Brown, who was defeated in last month's election by Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren, grabs the support of 47% of registered voters compared to 39% who say they would vote for a generic Democratic candidate in a hypothetical 2013 special election contest. According to the poll, Brown also has double digit leads against possible Democratic candidates such as Representatives Ed Markey, Michael Capuano, and Stephen Lynch, who have all expressed interest in possibly making Senate bids. – Paul Steinhauser
BUT A KENNEDY STILL CONSIDERING: A family friend says Ted Kennedy Jr., son of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, is seriously considering running for senate if John Kerry vacates the seat to become the next secretary of state. Friends and some Democratic Party leaders are encouraging Kennedy to run for the Massachusetts seat held by Kerry since 1985. “He is listening to everyone, but he is not going to make a decision unless there is an open seat,” said the friend, who noted telephone calls to Kennedy urging him to run have increased in the past 48 hours. – Mark Preston
GOING HOME FOR CHRISTMAS: Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner reflects on pulling his ‘Plan B’ fiscal cliff proposal from the House floor on Thursday night… “The House did not take up the tax bill last night because we didn't have the votes to pass it. It's not the outcome that I wanted but that was the will of the House. … I'm proud of our members. They do a great job on behalf of their constituents and frankly, a great job on behalf of our country but what Mr. Cantor outlined last night is that the House would come back if needed and we're prepared to come back if needed.”
WHAT’S NEXT: Fiscal cliff: Three possible scenarios Democrats may pursue… 1.) Go over the cliff: Yes – the move could produce a bad psychological reaction, but the hope would be to correct that by passing a deal as soon as the new Congress is sworn in on January 3rd. 2.) Fall back scenario: The Senate would take the bill it already passed earlier this year to keep Bush tax cuts in place for households with income below $250,000, and add other important items which will include sweeteners for Republicans. 3.) Pass big package: The Senate would take the latest offer from President Obama to Boehner with tax increases on household income over $400,000 and the spending cuts he proposed, or something close to it, and turn it into a piece of legislation and try to pass it, the Democratic source suggested. – Dana Bash and Ted Barrett
What are the origins of flying flags at half-staff to mourn the dead?
From a debate on gun control following the school shooting Connecticut to wrangling to avoid the fiscal cliff at the start of 2013, Capitol Hill has largely been the center of the political world since the reelection of President Barack Obama.
Need a second opinion? Just ask CNN Congressional Producer’s Deirdre Walsh and Ted Barrett, CNN’s producing duo on the hill that have been all over the countless stories over the last six weeks. Ted’s covered Congress for 13 years and Deirdre for seven – their expertise lending a sense of gravitas to their reporting.
The machinations of covering Capitol Hill caught our eye today – so we interviewed Ted and Deirdre at the hope of getting a better perspective on what goes on behind the cameras.
Gut Check: Let’s start with the positive. What is the best thing about covering Capitol Hill?
Barrett and Walsh: We’ve had other assignments for CNN before moving to the Hill, but both agree covering Congress is the best beat in town. We get to report on a wide range of issues – from domestic politics to international policy – because almost anything happening in the world has a nexus to Capitol Hill. In addition, there is a regular diet of congressional scandals that keep us full. One thing that separates the Hill from other beats is the direct access we have to Senators and House members. We talk directly to them regularly – both leaders and rank and file, and while many stick to the talking points, it’s interesting to get to know the ones who will trust you and be candid – and hopefully help you break some news.
Gut Check: With so much public bluster and private discussion, how do you determine what is news and what is a head fake? Are both important to cover?
Barrett and Walsh: At the microphones, Speaker Boehner and President Obama might say the talks are failing and blame the other side for not giving an inch. But the reality might be that their aides are working with each other privately, exchanging offers, crunching numbers, and working steadily towards a compromise. We’ve seen this in the past with other high profile negotiations, such as recent deals involving the payroll tax extension and debt ceiling. We can’t ignore the public pronouncements because they shape each side’s positions and often give cover to rank and file lawmakers who might have to vote for an eventual compromise they might not support entirely. The best way to know what’s really going on is to develop great sources who are A) in a position to know what’s happening behind closed doors and who are B) willing to tell the truth without partisan spin.
Gut Check: Is there any sense of urgency among the lawmakers? When I travel, everyone can’t figure out why Congressional leaders seem content with Groundhog Day?
Barrett and Walsh: Most lawmakers from both parties – and their leaders – insist they don’t want to go off the fiscal cliff. That said, neither is ready to give yet on the key points they will need to concede to get a get a deal. It might be that they need to go right up to the Dec. 31st deadline before an agreement is reached, meaning there will be a lot of angst and uncertainty until then. Deals will look imminent, and then die quickly the next day. Most Republicans believe to their core that if tax rates go up, small businesses will suffer and they will be forced to layoff employees. So, it’s unlikely they will give until they’ve done everything they can to prevent that from happening or at least to get the sort of spending cuts they think would make the tax increases worthwhile. That said, Democrats feel just as strongly about not cutting entitlements and will hold their ground until Republicans give on rates. We’re in a waiting game now – and as usual around here, it looks like this debate will bump right up to the deadline.
Gut Check: From an observer’s perspective, the White House holds the most cards, they obviously won the election – as well as the ability to point to the exit polls and say the American people are on our side; but does that not matter because all House members and one third of the senators are up for re-election in two years and feel they have the most to lose?
Barrett and Walsh: House Republicans concede they lost some leverage after the President won re-election, but they also argue the people in their districts elected them to be a check on the President. For now at least many of these GOP members feel it’s their job to push back at the White House on spending and taxes. November’s election results demonstrated that redistricting has significantly cut down on the number of competitive seats in the House so there are fewer members that feel pressure to compromise. That could change if the economy takes another bad turn and they get blamed for negative effects. We saw a lot of Democrats lose in the wave in 2010 that didn’t think they were in trouble then.
Did you miss it?
Leading CNNPolitics: Behind the scenes: A breakdown of Boehner's miscalculation on Plan B
House Speaker John Boehner suffered a major political setback Thursday when he failed to garner enough votes to pass his back-up plan to a fiscal cliff deal, also known as "Plan B." But what happened? – Dana Bash
Leading Drudge: Kerry a Frequent Visitor with Syrian Dictator Bashar Al-Assad
John Kerry, who is expected to be nominated as secretary of state later this afternoon, has made frequent visits to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. Assad is now under fire for mass murdering his own civilians, as he fights an internal war to keep his position of power. Even Obama has called for Assad to go. – Daniel Halper
Leading HuffPo: 'God Only Knows' Boehner Brushes Off Worry After Big Fail
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) contended Friday that he was not worried about his future as speaker of the House after his members rejected his "Plan B" fiscal cliff bill. But the failure did leave him sounding very concerned about how his caucus and President Barack Obama could ever come together to find the grand bargain on taxes and spending that Boehner and others think the nation desperately needs. “How we get there, God only knows,” he said. – Michael McAuliff and Sabrina Siddiqui
Leading Politico: Dems plot next steps after Boehner stumble
Speaker John Boehner said “God only knows” how Washington will solve the fiscal cliff, but he remained confident that he would remain the House’s top Republican after his colleagues forced him to cancel a vote on his fallback tax bill Thursday night. The Ohio Republican — standing next to his No. 2, Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) — said the House Republican Conference rejected his proposal to extend tax rates for income of less than $1 million because there was “a perception created that that vote last night was going to increase taxes.” – Jake Sherman, Manu Raju and John Bresnahan
Leading The New York Times: Open Massachusetts Seat Could Give Path to Brown
President Obama’s decision to pluck John Kerry of Massachusetts from the Senate to be his new secretary of state sets the stage for a comeback by departing Senator Scott P. Brown, a Republican, even before he leaves office early next month. – Katharine Q. Seelye
The political bites of the day
– NRA points finger at gun restrictions, media, Obama for gun violence –
NRA EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT WAYNE LaPIERRE IN A DELIVERED STATEMENT TO THE PRESS…
Gun-Free School Zones: “How do we protect our children right now, starting today, in a way that we know works? The only way to answer that question is to face up to the truth. Politicians pass laws for Gun-Free School Zones. They issue press releases bragging about them. They post signs advertising them. And in so doing, they tell every insane killer in America that schools are their safest place to inflict maximum mayhem with minimum risk.”
The media: “A child growing up in America today witnesses 16,000 murders and 200,000 acts of violence by the time he or she reaches the ripe old age of 18 and throughout it all too many in the national media, their corporate owners and their stockholders act as silent enablers if not complicit co-conspirators.”
The president: “Ladies and gentlemen, there is no national, one-size-fits-all solution to protecting our children. But do know this President zeroed out school emergency planning grants in last year's budget, and scrapped "Secure Our Schools" policing grants in next year's budget. With all the foreign aid, with all the money in the federal budget, we can't afford to put a police officer in every school? Even if they did that, politicians have no business — and no authority — denying us the right, the ability, or the moral imperative to protect ourselves and our loved ones from harm.”
Pardon The Interruption… LaPierre spoke to reporters in an appearance that was interrupted twice by protesters shouting anti-NRA slogans and bearing banners in front of his podium, including one that said “NRA killing our kids.” “NRA stop killing our children, the NRA and assault weapons are killing our children, not armed teachers,” one protester yelled. “We've got to end the violence, stop the killing, stop the killing in our schools, stop the killing in our malls, stop the killing in our streets.”
Gut Check Full Service… The NRA signaled no willingness to consider any of the various proposals we have heard this week to change gun laws regarding access to guns, background checks, gun shows, trigger locks or any other gun control regulation.
– Bloomberg reacts –
NEW YORK MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, AN OUTSPOKEN GUN CONTROL ADVOCATE, IN A WRITTEN STATEMENT: “Their press conference was a shameful evasion of the crisis facing our country. Instead of offering solutions to a problem they have helped create, they offered a paranoid, dystopian vision of a more dangerous and violent America where everyone is armed and no place is safe. Leadership is about taking responsibility, especially in times of crisis. Today the NRA's lobbyists blamed everyone but themselves for the crisis of gun violence.”
– Duncan stresses common values –
SECRETARY OF EDUCATION ARNE DUNCAN IN A SPEECH ABOUT SCHOOL SAFETY: “We have common values that go far beyond the constitutional right to bear arms. We value our children. We value our safety. We value our freedom to go to a movie theater or to a house of worship and do what we want to do so long as we're not compromising the freedom of others. We value the right to live our daily lives and to pursue our dreams without fear.”
– Hagel apologizes for “openly aggressively gay” comment … –
FORMER SENATOR CHUCK HAGEL OF NEBRASKA IN A STATEMENT TO THE PRESS: “My comments 14 years ago in 1998 were insensitive. They do not reflect my views or the totality of my public record, and I apologize to Ambassador Hormel and any LGBT Americans who may question my commitment to their civil rights. I am fully supportive of ‘open service’ and committed to LGBT military families.”
– but McCain concerned over ‘Jewish lobby’ comments –
REPUBLICAN SEN. JOHN MCCAIN IN A STATEMENT TO THE PRESS: “I've known Sen. Hagel for many years. I appreciate also his service in Vietnam. I am concerned about many of the comments that he made and has made, like reference to a quote Jewish lobby which I don't believe exists. I believe a pro-Israel lobby exists and I think that many of those comments and other positions that he has taken will be the subject of the Senate Armed Services Committee and I certainly look forward to asking those questions and getting his responses.”
Gut Check Full Service: Hagel's defense posture forged by war experience… Hagel, a frontrunner to replace Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, has received criticism from pro-Israel groups and others who object to his stance on Iran and Hamas. One group began running ads on Washington-area television stations on Thursday, even though the administration has not said he is the president's choice. – Mike Mount
What stopped us in 140 characters or less
According to the Dept of Education, there were over 130k schools in the US in 2010. NRA has called for an armed guard in every one of them—
Leslie Bentz (@lbentzterp) December 21, 2012
Walking out of another funeral and was handed the NRA transcript. The most revolting, tone deaf statement I've ever seen.—
Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) December 21, 2012
#NRA plan for schools. Volunteer guards with guns. Wonder how Trayvon Martin feels about that idea.—
Jeffrey Toobin (@JeffreyToobin) December 21, 2012
Anti-Second Amendment folks just want the NRA to be the scapegoat for what is a societal failing.—
Dana Loesch (@DLoesch) December 21, 2012
Massachusetts, Hawaii going from crazy Senate seniority to zero seniority.—
Steven Dennis (@StevenTDennis) December 21, 2012
If confirmed, Kerry will become the first losing nominee since Nixon to get a big new post-election job. nyti.ms/VWlRTM—
David Leonhardt (@DLeonhardt) December 21, 2012
Ben Josephson (@benjosephson) December 21, 2012
TRIVIA ANSWER from @DanMericaCNN
In the last week, after a shooting in a Connecticut school killed 20 people and 8 adults and the death of Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, flags were flown at half-mast throughout the country – form the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. to churches in Connecticut, from the White House to government buildings in Honolulu, Hawaii.
No one knows for sure when flying a flag at half-staff became tradition. However, the earliest record – and widely considered start of the tradition – began in 1612 when the commander of the ship Heart’s Ease was killed in the Arctic and his crew flew their flag at half-mast to honor their fallen leader.
According to a number of historical accounts, when the Heart’s Ease returned to the larger fleet, crew members of the other ships lowered their flags and the tradition stuck.
United States law also mandates the amount of time a flag should stay at half-mast following a death and in a time or mourning. According to Title 4, Chapter 1, Section 7 of the United States Code, after the death of a president or former president, the flag should be flown at half-staff for 30 days, after the death of the Vice President, the chief Justice, a retired Chief Justice or Speaker of the House of Representatives, the flag should be flown for 10 days. For other government officials, the flag should be flown from the day of death until they are laid to rest.
Additionally, the flag should fly on half-staff on Patriot Day (September 11), Peace Officers Memorial Day (May 15), and Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day on December 7.
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