The Sunday political talk shows waded into controversial territory. Missed them? We've got you covered with the most important parts of Sunday’s political chatter.
2014: Sitting side by side on CNN’s “State of the Union” - a rarity these days on political shows, where members of opposing parties often appear during different segments to talk about the same topics - Rep. Steve Israel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and Rep. Greg Walden, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, addressed the challenges they both face in the upcoming midterm elections.
Israel admitted that the political climate isn’t mostly sunny for Democrats right now.
“Well, look, there's a tough climate, no question about it. I won't sugarcoat it, but the climate has changed,” Israel told host Candy Crowley.
But (there’s always a “but” in politics) he said Election Day is still more than six months away and anything could happen.
“You never predict the ninth inning in the first inning. And as a Mets fan, you don't predict the ninth inning in the ninth inning,” he said. “Things change.”
The New York Democrat, in charge of raising money and electing Democrats to the House of Representatives, also acknowledged that Democratic voters’ low turnout in nonpresidential election years is a challenge that his party must overcome.
A new CBS News Poll shows that 70% of Republicans say they’re excited to vote, compared with 58% of Democrats.
“We're using every tool in our toolbox,” Israel said, including staff in 33 congressional districts.
But he said the real advantage Democrats have is that they are running against the “least popular Republican Congress in history.”
His counterpart at the NRCC, Walden, has a different take, obviously.
He said President Barack Obama’s low approval ratings will help Republicans in November.
“Our job is to … make sure that there's a check and balance on the Barack Obama administration and Washington,” he said.
Sebelius: Over on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” outgoing Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said she was not pushed out, but that Obama did not ask her to stay.
“I made it pretty clear that it really wasn’t an option to stay on,” she said, adding that she either had to leave now or wait until his term ended in January of 2017. “That really wasn’t a commitment I was willing to make, and he knew that,” she said.
Sebelius is retiring after a tumultuous rollout of Obamacare that was plagued with a faulty website for the first couple of months of open enrollment. She said she has no regrets but that the December 1 deadline - the second self-imposed deadline to have the site functioning - was “a critical juncture” and a “scary date.” She said she wouldn’t have had a third chance if it failed.
As Sebelius’ legacy is being debated, Democrats and the Obama administration are going to play a critical role in shaping it with their public and private comments. Just two days after her announcement, they are offering cautious praise for the woman who oversaw the implementation of the largest social program since Medicare.
On CBS News’ “Face the Nation,” Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland said, “She has accomplished a lot.” Meanwhile on “Fox News Sunday,” Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island said Sebelius “gave a lot of good service” but that “it probably is a good thing to have a new face going forward.”
Sebelius’ successor: Sebelius received a heavy dose of criticism throughout her tenure, especially from Republicans, and her proposed successor, Sylvia Burwell, will be subject to it as well.
Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee, called Burwell an “interesting choice” because her current position as director of the Office of Management and Budget gives her the skills to help Obama “spin the numbers” of Obamacare.
The administration said 7.5 million people have signed up for Obamacare but has not said how many have paid for coverage, which is the real marker of enrollees.
“It’s not going to quiet the controversy,” Blackburn said on “Face the Nation” about the personnel change.
Over on “Fox News Sunday,” Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, who is on the committee that will oversee and vote on Burwell’s confirmation, didn't say he would vote against her but expressed concerns.
“The questions that we have to get to, however, is whether or not Director Burwell will be serving for the President of the United States, with his agenda as the primary objective, or will she get into the details of the numbers,” Scott said.
Democrats predictably praised her. Whitehouse said the former Clinton White House power player is “a very good choice.”
“She brings a strong set of credentials,” he said, pointing to her former positions as Clinton’s deputy chief of staff and chief of staff to former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin.
Russia: On ABC’s “This Week,” U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power increased pressure on Russia over its actions in Ukraine.
She said that the unrest in eastern Ukraine has “all the telltale signs … of Moscow’s involvement.”
Cities in Eastern Ukraine have erupted in chaos and reports of violence. Protesters have taken over police stations and Russian troops are massing at Ukraine’s eastern border.
“It’s professional, it’s coordinated,” she said. “There’s nothing grass-roots seeming about it.”
She said that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s actions in Ukraine “give credence to the idea” that he wants to take eastern Ukraine, despite the fact Moscow keep telling the administration that’s not its intention. “Everything they are doing suggests the opposite.”
Powers warned of “a ramping up” of sanctions if escalation continues.
IRS: On “Fox News Sunday,” a Republican and a Democrat dug in their heels and talked past each other in what was essentially a continuation of rancorous congressional hearings held on the IRS. On Thursday, Republicans on the House Oversight Committee voted to hold former IRS official Lois Lerner in contempt of Congress for not answering Congress’ questions over the scandal plaguing the agency for singling out conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status.
The alleged politicization of the IRS has provided a year of fodder for Republicans looking for corruption and illegal activity in the highest levels of the Obama administration.
Rep. Sander Levin, the top Democrat on the House Ways and Means committee, said conservative groups applying for tax-exempt 501(c)(4) status were examined more than liberal ones because of the rapid increase in political spending by conservative groups in 2012.
“In 2012, $256 million, and two of the organizations were Koch brother organizations and a third was Karl Rove,” he said. The wealthy and politically active Koch brothers have been a key target of Democrats, especially in the Senate, this election season.
But host Chris Wallace said that didn’t explain why 100% of groups with the words “tea party” or “patriot” in their names were examined and only 30% of groups with the word “progressive.”
Rep. Charles Boustany, R-Louisiana, defended the 10-month investigation, which has yet to show that directive came from Obama or anyone inside the White House.
“We’ve been stonewalled,” he said, adding that Republicans have been “obstructed” by Lerner, a career bureaucrat.
Rand Paul: After spending some time in New Hampshire, a critical early-voting state in the presidential nominating process, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky defended his Senate vote against the resolution on Iran regarding nuclear weapons.
He told ABC News’ Jonathan Karl that the senators who voted for it were “voting for war” because the language of the resolution says the United States would “do everything possible” to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
When pressed, Paul would not say if it was acceptable to tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran.
“Should I announce to Iran, well, we don’t want you to, but we’ll live with it? No, that’s a dumb idea. … However, the opposite is a dumb idea, too.”
Paul barely walked back his remarks from 2009, when he said former Vice President Dick Cheney was encouraging war in Iraq to enrich his former defense contractor employer Halliburton.
“I’m not questioning his motives,” Paul said in the interview aired Sunday, but added that “there’s a chance for a conflict of interest.”
He also defended his proposed cuts to the defense budget and criticized some of his Republican colleagues who “play up” the patriotism card, equating patriotism with defense funding.
“It’s not a blank check,” he said. “Some conservatives will give them whatever they want and everything is for the soldiers. … We can't be a trillion dollars in the hole.”
And no, Paul has not made up his mind about running for president. He is giving the same answer he’s been giving for the past many months: His wife is still undecided.
Immigration and racism: Paul wouldn’t directly criticize former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a potential 2016 rival, for saying that illegal immigration is not a felony but “an act of love.”
Paul said Bush could have been “more artful.”
“When you say they're doing an act of love and you don't follow it up with, ‘But we have to control the border,’ people think, well, because they're doing this for kind reasons that the whole world can come to our country.”
On “State of the Union,” Walden and Israel debated immigration reform, which passed the Senate last year and is stalled in the House.
Walden rejected House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s comment that Republicans won’t take up immigration is in part because of racism, calling it “both wrong and unfortunate.”
Israel said “a significant extent” of the Republican base voters do have elements “animated by racism.”
He said the Republican leadership should allow a vote on the bill, predicting that 190 Democrats would support it, meaning that only a couple dozen Republicans would have to support it for it to pass.
“Then we don’t have to have this debate anymore.”
Boston Marathon: As Tuesday’s anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing approaches, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick said the marathon is going to be “a great, great occasion,” but added that it will also be a solemn one.
“We acknowledge the tragedy of the last year, but also, it has been a source of pride for us in the way this community has shown the world what … a strong community looks like.”
Kicker: Kissing Congressman: Walden refused to say whether he thought Rep. Vance McAllister, the freshman Louisiana congressman caught on surveillance video kissing an aide, should resign.
“It's bad. It's wrong. He needs to answer and be held accountable,” was as far as Walden would go. “I’m going to leave it at that.”