Conservative Sen. Jim DeMint stressed an unyielding agenda for Republicans during an opening speech Thursday at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).
DeMint, a South Carolina senator and conservative icon, cast aspersions toward the notions of compromising with Democrats during a time in which political strife has dominated Capitol Hill.
"We don’t have shared goals with the Democrats. The democrats can’t cut spending. Their whole platform is based on promising more from government," DeMint told activists gathered in Washington, D.C.
"Every time we compromise with Democrats, we spend more, we borrow more, we grow government," he said.
DeMint skewered the Obama administration in his speech, the first address as part of the three-day summit.
DeMint dealt mainly in broad strokes, outlining a “decentralized” approach to health care and transportation, DeMint argued for familiar themes to conservatives, including state’s rights and budget prudence.
One hot topic that came up – the Keystone pipeline, which DeMint said would ensure tens of thousands of jobs.
“Who could say no? Folks, we’re not talking about complicated political philosophy here,” he said.
Sen. Charles Grassley, seen here in a file photo, said Wednesday it was "astonishing and extremely disappointing that the House would fulfill Wall Street's wishes ..."
By Tom Curry, msnbc.com National Affairs Writer
The House on Thursday passed its version of a bill already approved by the Senate to make clear that members of Congress and congressional employees are not exempt from insider trading prohibitions under securities laws.
House and Senate leaders are likely to appoint members to a conference committee during the next few days to reconcile the differences between the two bills.
Using an expedited procedure requiring a two-thirds vote and allowing no amendments, the House voted 417 to 2 to pass the bill which was drafted by House GOP leaders.
The bill resembles the one passed by the Senate last Thursday but differs in a few ways.
One is that the House bill would require public disclosure of stock transactions by fewer executive branch officials – about 28,000 – than the Senate bill, which would require public disclosure by 360,000 executive branch officials.
More controversially, the House bill omits the Senate bill’s requirement that “political intelligence professionals” register, just as lobbyists are required to do.
The political intelligence amendment, sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R- Iowa, exempts the news media, but applies to information gathering “intended for use in analyzing securities or commodities markets, or in informing investment decisions,” and done on behalf of clients who want to keep track of pending legislation or federal agencies’ rule-making.
Rep. Louise Slaughter, D- N.Y., who has been advocating her own congressional insider trading ban for years, told the House Thursday that House GOP leaders had succumbed to pressure from lobbyists and information gatherers on K Street, center of Washington’s lobbying industry, to remove the Grassley amendment from the bill.
“It appears that the Republican leadership couldn’t stomach the pressure from the political intelligence community,” she said on the House floor.
She said the political intelligence industry “is worth $400 million a year. It is unregulated, unseen, and operates in the dark.”
Grassley said in a statement Wednesday that it was “astonishing and extremely disappointing that the House would fulfill Wall Street’s wishes by killing this provision. The Senate clearly voted to try to shed light on an industry that’s behind the scenes. If the Senate language is too broad, as opponents say, why not propose a solution instead of scrapping the provision altogether?”
But House Majority Leader Eric Cantor indicated that the Grassley amendment was one of the parts of the Senate bill that “would have made the bill unworkable or raised far more questions than they would have answered.”
And Senate Governmental Affairs Committee chairman, Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, who shepherded the bill to passage in the Senate, also opposes Grassley’s amendment, saying last Thursday that registration of political intelligence gatherers might run afoul of the First Amendment. "We're going to have to try to fix it in conference," he told reporters.
Lieberman prefers to ask the Government Accountability Office to do a study of the activities of political intelligence gatherers before Congress moves ahead on any regulation of them.
In his State of the Union speech on Jan. 24, President Obama said, “Send me a bill that bans insider trading by members of Congress; I will sign it tomorrow.”
The rapid pace of enactment of the bill was spurred by a CBS “60 Minutes” report last year and a book by Peter Schweizer, a fellow at the conservative Hoover Institution, on alleged insider trading by members of Congress.
President Obama outlines a financial package that he says will force some of the nation's biggest banks to put billions of dollars toward the relief of many struggling homeowners.
By Msnbc.com staff and wire
American homeowners can breathe (a small) sigh of relief. The U.S. announced a $25 billion deal Thursday with the nation's largest banks - after more than a year of bickering and about-faces - that would provide some help for people struggling to pay their mortgages.
The settlement comes after evidence emerged late in 2010 that banks robo-signed thousands of foreclosure documents without properly reviewing paperwork. The Obama administration hopes the pact will open a new avenue for housing relief because it will force the banks to write down mortgages at a time when roughly one in four borrowers owe more on their mortgage than their home is worth.
The settlement helps "turn the page" on "recklessness" and abusive practices by banks that led to the housing crisis, President Barack Obama told reporters in remarks at the White House after the deal was announced. The settlement has been billed as complementing other government programs designed to boost the housing market that has been a drag on the economic recovery, a key issue for Obama as he fights for re-election in November.
"We have reached a landmark settlement with the nation's largest banks that will speed relief to the hardest hit homeowners,'' Obama said. He also urged Congress to take action on some other proposals aimed at aiding homeowners, including one to help underwater borrowers who are current on their payments refinance their mortgages.
The Obama administration has estimated that up to 1 million homeowners could benefit from the deal through mortgage writedowns and other forms of relief. The New York Times said another 750,000 people who lost their homes through foreclosures between January 2008 through the end of last year will get a $2,000 check. The aid will be doled out over three years, the Times said.
The core group of banks involved in settlement talks are Bank of America Corp, Wells Fargo & Co, JPMorgan Chase & Co, Citigroup Inc and Ally Financial Inc.
Forty-nine states joined the settlement in advance of a Feb. 6 deadline, but several states continued negotiations to address concerns specific to their state. The deal was clinched after California and New York joined at the last minute. Oklahoma was the lone holdout and will get no funds.
Although the deal with 49 states is the largest joint federal-state settlement ever obtained, the amount is minuscule compared to the declines in home values and the banks still face a host of other mortgage-related lawsuits.
"The bottom line about this settlement, is it's okay, it's a step forward, it's a step in the right direction. But let's not kid ourselves, there's a hell of a lot more that needs to be done," said Ira Rheingold, executive director of the National Association of Consumer Advocates.
The deal does little to ease bank investor fears, industry analysts said.
"We believe any initial euphoria over the deal will quickly fade as investors realize the flood of additional mortgage-related litigation that the major banks face," said Guggenheim Partners analyst Jaret Seiberg in a note on Thursday.
The deal, so far, only applies to the five banks who signed it. It does not apply to government-owned mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which hold more than half of all the mortgages in the U.S.
The proposed settlement distributed last month to state officials included rough estimates on the benefits each state's homeowners might receive, but did not include guaranteed numbers.
California received a guarantee its struggling homeowners would receive around $8 billion in relief, two people familiar with the negotiations said. The state itself would receive around $430 million for foreclosure prevention and other housing efforts.
Money breakdown Under the terms of the agreement, the servicers are required to collectively dedicate $20 billion toward various forms of financial relief to borrowers. At least $10 billion will go toward reducing the principal on loans for borrowers who, as of the date of the settlement, are either delinquent or at imminent risk of default and owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth.
At least $3 billion will go toward refinancing loans for borrowers who are current on their mortgages but who owe more on their mortgage than their homes are worth. Borrowers who meet basic criteria will be eligible for the refinancing, which will reduce interest rates for borrowers who are currently paying much higher rates or whose adjustable rate mortgages are due to soon rise to much higher rates.
Up to $7 billion will go towards other forms of relief, including forbearance of principal for unemployed borrowers, anti-blight programs, short sales and transitional assistance, benefits for service members who are forced to sell their home at a loss as a result of a Permanent Change in Station order, and other programs.
Because servicers will receive only partial credit for every dollar spent on some of the required activities, the settlement will provide direct benefits to borrowers in excess of $20 billion.
The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency also said on Thursday that Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan and Wells Fargo have agreed to pay a penalty of $394 million as part of a settlement they reached in April 2011 with regulators over foreclosure abuses.
The banks can meet the terms of the penalty through payments they make as part of the larger settlement with state attorneys general and the Justice Department, the OCC said.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Republican presidential candidates Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul prepare for a debate at the University of South Florida.
By The Associated Press
Updated at 12:45p.m. ET Republican candidates were using a lull in the primary season to reset the race for the nomination to challenge President Barack Obama in November.
Mitt Romney was trying to shore up his weakened standing as the party's inevitable choice, while Rick Santorum worked to sustain momentum from a stunning sweep of nominating contests Tuesday in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri.
A flagging Newt Gingrich fought to recapture his place as Romney's top challenger, and Texas Rep. Ron Paul vowed to keep grinding away through the long primary season to capture a strong number of the 1,144 delegates needed to get the nomination at the Republican National Convention in August.
Romney, who served one term as Massachusetts governor and is hugely wealthy after a career in venture capitalism, remained the front-runner. He has a massive campaign treasury and well-oiled organization. He is generally seen as the most formidable potential opponent for Obama, who faces a tough re-election campaign because of the weak U.S. economy.
The Republican race has been especially volatile, with several candidates taking their turn as front-runner.
Noting Santorum's triumphs, Gingrich said Wednesday that the Republicans could arrive at their convention this summer without any candidate in control, the first time that would have happened since 1940.
As long as Gingrich and Santorum are both viable, they could split the conservative vote, allowing Romney to win nominating contests even if he falls short of a majority.
Gingrich, the former speaker of the House of Representatives, remains poorly funded despite millions of dollars injected into his campaign by a Las Vegas gambling mogul and his family. His campaign organization is minimal, and no candidate debates — which Gingrich has used to win over some voters — are scheduled in the coming days.
The Santorum campaign reported a $1 million spike in donations after the former Pennsylvania senator's triumph this week, as donors started to take a second look at his candidacy.
"We definitely are the campaign right now with the momentum, the enthusiasm on the ground," he said.
But Santorum's campaign is pauper-like in comparison with Romney's.
The libertarian Paul, who appears to have the money to meet his limited campaign objectives, does not look to be a significant player in the campaign except as a spoiler who drains support away from the other candidates.
The next test, although not a definitive one, comes when Maine Republicans report the results of their weeklong caucus meetings on Saturday. Then there are the far more important primaries in Michigan and Arizona on Feb. 28. After that comes the delegate windfall available on so-called Super Tuesday, when 10 states vote March 6.
Romney holds a considerable lead in delegates so far, with 112 to 72 for Santorum and 32 for Gingrich.
Romney retools his message -- with his biography and even his policy… GOPers and conservatives tell Romney to step it up… Dems break ranks on the contraception issue… Yet polling (for now) shows the issue isn’t as controversial as the noise machine suggests… Jim Fallows on Obama’s first three years… CPAC is back... And Chamber up with House and Senate ads.
Gerald Herbert / AP
Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks to the traveling press corps after arriving in Atlanta, Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2012.
By NBC’s Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Brooke Brower
*** Romney retools his message: Beginning with Romney’s speech on Tuesday night, we can point to four examples how he and his allies have begun to retool his biographical message, trying to expand it beyond the simple “economic fix-it man.” So in his address on Tuesday night, he talked about his father’s humble roots and past work as a carpenter. (It was a little forced and the “pointy end forward” nails example is not his best stump moment, but we digress). Then the campaign released a statement yesterday commemorating the 10th anniversary of the Salt Lake City Olympics and reminding everyone of Romney’s role with it. (“I was deeply honored to have been asked to lead the Olympics and am proud that the games were such a memorable success,” Romney said in the release.) Then, campaigning in Atlanta, he talked about his time as a Mormon lay pastor, something he rarely does. (“In that capacity, I had a chance to work with people who lost their jobs, in some cases, or were facing other financial distress.’) And finally, his son Tagg tweeted an article about how Romney rescued a 14-year-old kidnap victim (a story we heard more about in the ’08 race than the ’12 one). You add up these four things, and it’s an obvious attempt in a 24-hour span to humanize Romney and add more texture to his biography -- beyond the guy who’s good at giving a PowerPoint presentation.
*** And the retool is biographical, policy-based, and anti-Washington: But you also get the sense that Romney’s retool after his losses in Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri is going to go well beyond biography. He is now set to deliver an economic speech at Ford Field -- where the Detroit Lions play -- on Feb. 24. You don’t create a setting like that unless you have something new to say. Don’t be surprised if this economic speech is used to make a better sale with conservative voters. And when it comes to attacking his GOP rivals, he’s casting both Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum as Washington insiders. But there’s one problem here: If you’re going to criticize your opponents as being DC insiders, you probably don’t want to come to DC -- as Romney is doing today -- and raising money from these same insiders. As the New York Times writes, “The timing of Mr. Romney’s aggressive assault on Washington was hardly ideal. He is scheduled to spend Thursday in the capital, surrounded by lobbyists and other donors who are each asked to raise $10,000 in contributions before attending a policy discussion. His campaign has designated “Industry Finance Chairs” from the energy, defense and financial sectors.” By the way, don’t expect the same “Empire Strikes Back” style of attacks on Santorum and Gingrich going forward as we saw in Florida. The campaign seems to get that, while effective at defeating Gingrich in Florida, it did damage to Romney as well.
*** GOPers and conservatives tell Romney to step it up: This retooling comes as GOP leaders and conservatives are asking Romney to step up his game. Politico's Martin writes, “A day after Romney was convincingly defeated by Rick Santorum in non-binding contests in Minnesota, Colorado and Missouri, high-profile Republicans voiced long-simmering worries that the would-be standard-bearer lacks a compelling message for conservatives — and must be bolder to capture the party’s nomination.” (And don’t miss this quote from Sen. Jon Kyl in the piece: “Every time he defends his health care action in Massachusetts and every time he says something like [indexing minimum wage], conservatives wonder whether he has the instincts to usually take the conservative position on issues.) And today, the conservative Wall Street Journal editorial page hits Romney’s “inability, or unwillingness, to defend conservative principles. He seems to retreat at the first sound of a liberal moral argument.”
Rick Santorum is trying to capitalize on the momentum from his clean sweep in Tuesday's Republican presidential contests. NBC's Kelly O'Donnell reports.
*** Dems break ranks on the contraception issue: You know where the politics are on this contraception brouhaha -- at least for now -- when Republicans are uniting and when some Democrats are breaking ranks. Tim Kaine, the former DNC chair who’s now running in Virginia’s Senate race and has been searching for a way to show some distance from his former boss, said that he disagreed with the Obama administration’s decision. “I think the White House made a good decision in including a mandate for contraception coverage in the Affordable Care Act insurance policy, but I think they made a bad decision in not allowing a broad enough religious- employer exemption.” Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey, who’s up for re-election, also opposes the policy. And West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, also up for re-election, called it “un-American” and a “direct affront to the religious freedoms protected under the 1st Amendment,” Politico says. If these Democrats running in tough (or potentially tough) races were looking for a way to create some distance from Obama, they certainly found it.
*** Yet polling (for now) shows the issue isn’t as controversial as the noise suggests: That said, supporters of the policy are pointing to polls showing that it isn’t as controversial -- even among Catholics -- as the DC noise machine suggests. A recent Public Religion Research Institute poll found that a majority of Catholics think employers should be required to provide health-care plans covering birth control at no cost. And a Democrat sent First Read a poll conducted by Dem pollster Celinda Lake -- from Aug. 2011 -- showing that 53% of Catholics say that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops opposition to free birth control in the health-care law makes no difference to them. Also, the Democratic National Committee will hold a conference call at 1:30 pm ET hitting Mitt Romney on this contraception issue with two Massachusetts health-care experts. “Romney is a politically calculating hypocrite, and we're gonna call him out for it tomorrow as a pre-buttal to his appearance at CPAC,” DNC Communications Director Brad Woodhouse says. Still, the White House is well aware they’ve fumbled the roll-out of this policy, and they know they can’t afford to let this debate linger beyond the weekend. Expect to hear something from them -- perhaps from the president himself -- that indicates they are open to finding compromise to implement this policy. And expect to hear something before the weekend.
*** Obama’s first three years: Here’s a good read today: Jim Fallows’ piece in The Atlantic on the first three years of Obama’s presidency. His conclusion: Obama was unready for the presidency (as almost all new presidents are) and temperamentally unsuited to it in several ways. But he also argues that many of his accomplishments -- as well as how quickly he’s learned on the job and from his mistakes -- has been underappreciated. And Fallows makes another point about the importance of 2012 for Obama: The outcome of the election will determine how his first three years in office will be later viewed. “If a year from now Obama is settling in for a second term, a halo effect will extend back to everything he did during his first four years... Yet if a year from now a just-beaten former President Obama is thinking about his memoirs … the very same combination of missteps and achievements will be viewed as a narrative leading inexorably to defeat.”
*** CPAC is back: The three-day Conservative Political Action begins today in DC, and here are some of today’s more notable speeches, NBC’s Adam Perez reports: Jim DeMint (9:25 am ET), Marco Rubio (10:35 am), Mitch McConnell (11:50 am), Michele Bachmann (12:20 pm), Rick Perry (1:20 pm), House Speaker John Boehner (1:35 pm), Herman Cain (4:25 pm), and Paul Ryan (7:30 pm). The current presidential candidates speak tomorrow, and Sarah Palin delivers the keynote on Saturday.
*** On the 2012 trail, per NBC’s Adam Perez: It’s a relatively slow day: Santorum stumps in Oklahoma, rallying in Oklahoma City and Tulsa… Romney visits Washington, DC for a reception with VA Gov. Bob McDonnell… And Paul and Gingrich are off the campaign trial.
*** The Chamber goes up with ads: Turning away from the presidential contest, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is beginning a TV ad blitz in 12 House and eight Senate contests. “The goal is to help Republicans win a majority of seats in the Senate while protecting the GOP majority in the House,” the Wall Street Journal writes. The ads are here.
Countdown to Super Tuesday: 26 days Countdown to Election Day: 271 days
Gary Franchi, right, has warned of a 9/11 cover-up, FEMA concentration camps and the New World Order. He leads a Super PAC using unlimited campaign contributions to support Ron Paul, left, in the Republican presidential race.
By Bill Dedman, Investigative Reporter, NBC News
As libertarian Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul looks for a state he can win, some of his supporters have turned to a new theme: voting fraud.
A Super PAC supporting Paul has pledged to monitor the vote in all the remaining states, using an army of exit pollsters to fight what it calls results that are "outrageous, unacceptable and patently un-American." The group, called Revolution PAC, has spent half a million dollars supporting Paul with videos, webcasts, online ads, direct mail, billboards and radio ads in primary and caucus states.
We first noticed Revolution PAC last week, when it told the Federal Election Commission that it couldn't meet the deadline to identify its donors, because of an error by its bank. Now Revolution PAC has filed its report.
As with many other so-called "independent" Super PACs, which can receive unlimited donations outside the normal rules of campaign finance, the pro-Paul group is operated by people with close ties to the candidate. The group's advisory board members include Penny Langford Freeman, Paul's political director from 1998 to 2007, and Joe Becker, chief legal counsel for Ron Paul 2008.
The leader of the group, its founder, chairman and treasurer, is Gary Franchi, a promoter of conspiracy theories and sophisticated social-media entrepreneur in the resurgent movement known as the Patriots.
The 34-year-old political activist from the Chicago suburbs told msnbc.com that his goal is a "non-violent intellectual revolution, which results in a full restoration of the federal Constitution."
Online videos produced by Franchi, and online interviews with him, add specifics:
Franchi has supported the 9/11 Truth Movement, which supports the idea that the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, werean inside job to create a pretext for a reduction in American liberty, or at least involved a cover-up, with the World Trade Center brought down by a planned U.S. demolition, instead of terrorist-controlled airplanes. Franchi founded the Lone Lantern Society (a reference to Paul Revere indicating that foreign enemies are on American soil). The group supports "the birth of freedom and the death of the New World Order," a secretive elite that is supposedly trying to set up a world government. Lone Lantern has held street demonstrations on the 11th of every month in Chicago and elsewhere, demanding an investigation of 9/11. In New Hampshire in 2008, a video shows Franchi asking Tom Ridge, the former secretary of Homeland Security, who was campaigning for Sen. John McCain, whether Ridge would support an investigation of the "controlled demolition" of the World Trade Center. Ridge was having none of it, saying, "I just don't buy into that. That's a conspiracy theory that has no basis in fact. It's almost out of the Twilight Zone."
According to a 2010 reportby the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks domestic fringe groups, "Gary Franchi is one of the leading promoters of a resurgent Patriot conspiracy theory that alleges the government is creating concentration camps for U.S. citizens." In 2009 he co-wrote and co-produced the video "Camp FEMA: American Lockdown," which claims that the Federal Emergency Management Agency is creating concentration camps on air bases and in vacant buildings to house political dissenters when the federal government proclaims martial law. "Your church may have already signed a deal with the devil," reads promotional material for the film. The film questions whether Census data will be used to round up Americans. Clips from Franchi's film on YouTube show Hitler youth marching while the narrator ominously describes President Obama's plans to expand AmeriCorps and the USA Freedom Corps, the volunteer initiative launched by the Bush administration after 9/11.
Franchi operates Restore the Republic, which opposes the Federal Reserve, the IRS and the income tax, decries the control of the economy by the Rockefellers and the "banking cartel," and warns of government plans to plant RFID microchips into all Americans. The group was founded by Franchi and filmmaker and Libertarian presidential candidate Aaron Russo, and has been operated by Franchi since Russo's death from cancer in 2007. RTR shares an address with Revolution PAC in Northbrook, Ill. The group, which describes itself as a social media platform for like-minded individuals, promotes Russo's film, "America: Freedom to Fascism," in which Ron Paul declares, "If that's the definition of a police state — that you can't do anything unless the government gives you permission —we're well on our way." In a YouTube video interview with Franchi in 2008, Paul credited the Russo video with bringing a lot of people to his presidential campaign. The group has also placed billboards fueling the bogus claim that Obama is not an American citizen, asking, "Where's the REAL birth certificate?"
Gary Franchi's film "Camp FEMA: American Lockdown" shows Hitler youth marching while the narrator ominously describes President Obama's plans to expand AmeriCorps and the USA Freedom Corps, the volunteer initiative launched by the Bush administration after 9/11.
Franchi has been a frequent guest of Texas talk show host Alex Jones, who warns about the New World Order on his infowars.com and other websites. In a videotaped interview with Jones, Franchi explained that at 17 he began to read about "the committee of 300, the Club of Rome, the Council of Foreign Relations," and other groups of the New World Order.
He said his parents, thinking he was mentally ill, had him heavily medicated for 10 years. But he continued his reading, particularly about the implantation of RFID microchips by government, and formed the Lone Lantern Society to tell people that "the enemies are here."
"It's the truth, it's the message, that's piercing the darkness," Franchi told Jones. "Anything that's done in darkness, anything that is hidden in secret will be revealed. It's having an impact. People are waking up by the millions, Alex, by the millions! The New World Order does not stand a chance."
'Derogatory' Franchi agreed to answer questions from msnbc.com, but only by email.
He said labels are distracting, and the description of him by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a "conspiracy theorist" is "derogatory and inflammatory language."
In regard to Sept. 11, he said his view is that "I personally, alongside Russo, 9/11 Family members, and thousands of architects and engineers do advocate for a more thorough investigation, preferably free from the Executive Privilege invoked during the Bush Administration."
Of Paul, Franchi said, "Ron Paul is my candidate because he understands what is affecting this nation, i.e. the Federal Reserve, an unsustainable foreign policy, and the loss of civil liberties under the guise of security."
Orlin Wagner / AP
Ron Paul has credited Franchi for bringing in more supporters for his presidential campaign.
Paul has had a vague and uncertain connection with fringe views and conspiracy peddlers for decades. In several cases he has welcomed their support, neither repudiating their views nor explicitly endorsing them.
For example, in 2007 Paul was asked by a student and 9/11 skeptic, "We've heard that you have questioned the government's official account." Paul replied, "Well, I never automatically trust anything the government does when they do an investigation because too often I think there’s an area that the government covered up, whether it’s the Kennedy assassination or whatever."
When asked if that meant that he wanted an additional investigation, he added, "I think we have to keep pushing for it. And like you and others, we see the investigations that have been done so far as more or less cover-up and no real explanation of what went on."
These amounts are small compared with the official Paul campaign, which raised $26 million (second to Romney among Republican candidates) by year end, and another pro-Paul Super PAC, Endorse Liberty, which spent $3.3 million. A third pro-Paul Super Pac, Santa Rita, spent $320,000.
Large donors received a free book signed by Thomas Woods, an author and member of the Revolution PAC advisory board. Woods is a senior fellow at the Ludwig von Mises Institute. Mises is one of the members of the Austrian School of Economics, whose ideas have influenced Paul, such as his call for a return to a gold standard. The PAC paid Woods $1,200 to sign his books for donors.
Gary Franchi on his webcast Reality Report.
The Revolution PAC paid $41,487 to Franchi or his group Restore the Republic, including $3,000 a month in management fees, $1,766 a month in rent at their shared office in Northbrook, Ill., and a 10 percent commission on large financial donations solicited. Franchi, the group's chairman and treasurer, said in response to questions that these are reasonable charges, much lower than is common, and that he has provided more support to the PAC than it has paid to him, considering the value of his in-kind donations of his time and services.
"I am personally not a representative for Dr. Paul nor should my beliefs be construed to be his," Franchi told msnbc.com. "Nor am I sure if Ron Paul believes in all the issues that concern me, however I do know I stand with him on the constitutional issues he continues to highlight throughout this election cycle and as he has done for over 20 years. That is why I formed Revolution PAC and produce content that I feel highlight his principled consistency and advocacy of fidelity to the Constitution."
Should Ron Paul accept support from Revolution PAC? Post your comment below.
Democrats and Republicans agree: People with higher incomes must pay more.
Democrats want upper-income people to pay more in taxes, but don’t want upper-income people to pay more for their Medicare benefits.
Republicans want upper-income people to pay more for their Medicare benefits, but don’t want them to pay more in income taxes.
A House-Senate conference committee is looking to upper-income people as it tries to find the money to offset the cost of a payroll tax cut package, which includes extended unemployment benefits.
A compromise that combines a bit of each (higher income taxes on the rich and higher Medicare premiums) seems unlikely.
For the Democrats, Sen. Bob Casey, D- Pa. has proposed a surtax on the rich to help pay for the payroll tax cut package.
Last year Casey’s proposed 3.25 percent surtax on incomes over $1 million failed to get the 60 votes it needed to advance in the Senate. He has now lowered his threshold, calling for a 1 percent surtax on any income over $1 million, which he said would raise about $76 billion, offsetting almost half the cost of a payroll tax cut package.
“It’s a way to break some of the logjam we’re seeing here” on the conference committee, Casey said.
His surtax would affect roughly 250,000 out of more than 140 million total tax filers.
The bill which the conference committee is working on would keep the Social Security payroll tax at its lower 4.2 percent rate. It would also extend payments to the unemployed for another ten months, and prevent a scheduled 27 percent cut in payments to doctors who treat Medicare patients.
Led by House Ways and Means Committee chairman Rep. Dave Camp of Michigan, Republicans want upper-income people to help pay for the package by paying higher premiums for their Medicare coverage.
Adopting the proposal President Obama made last September to the deficit reduction “super committee,” Republicans want higher premiums to apply to Medicare Part B, which pays for visits to the doctor’s office, and Medicare Part D, which pays for prescription drugs.
Under current law, people on Medicare who have annual incomes over $85,000 (or $170,000 for couples filing jointly) must pay higher premiums.
If you have income of $85,000 or less, your Medicare Part B premium is $99.90 a month; the premium increases as your income goes up; the highest premium is $319.70 a month. The median income for people over 65 is about $25,000.
About 5 percent of Medicare beneficiaries now pay the higher premiums. But under the Obama proposal, which Republicans have adopted, by 2019, 25 percent of Medicare recipients would pay higher premiums.
What’s maybe most significant is why the Democrats now oppose the idea of making upper-income people pay more for Medicare benefits.
One possible reason: they may not want to impose another burden on Medicare recipients, who are mostly over age 65 and who -- one must recall in an election year – have a high likelihood of voting. In the 2008 election, 70 percent of people over 65 voted, compared to only 49 percent of those 18 to 24.
Referring to the part of the package that would prevent that 27 percent cut in Medicare payments to doctors, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus said at Tuesday’s meeting of the conference committee, “It doesn’t make much sense to pay doctors more, but (then) to take it out of the hide of beneficiaries.”
Baucus added, “I don’t know if the American people would think it was fair” to ask higher-income people to pay more for Medicare benefits.
Other Democrats on the committee see the GOP proposal as a dire threat to the future of Medicare itself.
“This will end Medicare as we know it,” said Rep. Allyson Schwartz, D- Pa.
Sen. Ben Cardin, D- Md. pointed out that workers who earn more money pay more in Medicare taxes, right up to the last dollar of income they earn. Unlike the Social Security payroll tax, which applies only to the first $110,000 of earned income, the Medicare payroll tax applies to all earned income.
“We ask those who make more money to pay more -- for the same benefits,” Cardin explained. “Medicare benefits are comparable for all seniors, but we ask those who... have higher income to contribute more” by paying higher Medicare taxes while they’re working.
Cardin also noted a Medicare tax increase that Democrats rarely mention: Obama’s 2010 health care overhaul imposes an additional 0.9 percent tax on higher-income people starting next year and another 3.8 percent on tax on their investment income.
So, Cardin argued, if you add all that up, higher-income Americans are already paying enough for their Medicare benefits.
Medicare Part B is voluntary and “the more that we put these types of payment structures in place, the more that people who are well off will choose to not enter the Medicare Part B system,” Cardin said.
“This is a slippery slope,” changing Medicare into a means-tested safety net program, he warned. “I think that it is a dangerous path for us to go down.”
“When higher-income people decide to opt out (of Medicare Part B), rather than paying so much of their Part B premium out of their own pockets, they’ll go elsewhere and buy some private insurance policy,” said Rep. Henry Waxman, D- Calif.
“Those are the healthier, wealthier people. You’ll leave Medicare with the sicker, lower-income people and that means the whole Medicare system will increase in cost,” he said.
But Senate GOP Whip Jon Kyl rejected those arguments and, like Baucus, invoked “fairness” saying it “seems only fair that we ask some of the people at the very high end to be willing to pay a little bit more” for their Medicare benefits.
He said, “I thought we all agreed that high-income beneficiaries who are eligible for medical programs paid for by the taxpayers could afford to make some sacrifices here… in paying a little bit more for what they receive” from Medicare.
“This is not a new idea; this is something the president has proposed,” Kyl said. “I don’t know why all of a sudden people who want to put a surtax on millionaires don’t want them to have their Medicare benefit cuts at all.”
Resurgent Rick Santorum said his sweep of three GOP contests earned his shoestring campaign $250,000 overnight, cash he needs to take his upstart bid for the Republican presidential nomination to Mitt Romney's turf.
Sarah Conard / Reuters
Republican presidential candidate and former Senator Rick Santorum is accompanied by his daughter Elizabeth, left, and his wife Karen, right, as he speaks at his primary night rally at the St. Charles Convention Center in St. Charles, Missouri, February 7, 2012.
Santorum's stunning victories Tuesday in Minnesota, Missouri and Colorado marked his best performance thus far in the rollicking contest for the Republican presidential nomination — and Romney's worst. The better-funded and organized former Massachusetts governor shrugged off his poor showing, but his losses were stinging reminders of a stubborn weakness: Romney's inability to appeal to the conservatives at the base of the party.
It was far from clear, though, that Santorum would be able to turn his momentum into the millions of dollars he would need to overtake Romney. But in the hours after his victory, Santorum said he's finally being heard and supported by conservatives who want a clear contrast to President Barack Obama.
"I think last night we raised a quarter of a million dollars online," Santorum told CNN's "Starting Point" the morning after. "We are going to have the money we need to make the case we want to make."
That overnight haul was part of a larger two-day take of $400,000, Santorum told reporters Wednesday following an event near Dallas with pastors.
And to take the fight to Romney's virtual home states. On MSNBC's "Morning Joe," Santorum said he'd debate Romney in Arizona, home of a sizable Mormon population and a key patron, Sen. John McCain, the 2008 GOP nominee.
"Good. We welcome him," McCain said in Washington. Of Romney, he said: "I'm still confident he'll win the nomination. He'll be fine."
Also on Santorum's travel schedule: Michigan, where Romney's father was governor.
The developments shifted the Republican political narrative just as Romney had aggressively courted conservatives and they had begun to embrace him in the first step toward what many Republicans hoped would be a swift end to the nomination fight.
Instead, Santorum thrived and relegated House Speaker Newt Gingrich, another contender for the conservative vote, to the rear of the results Tuesday with Texas Rep. Ron Paul. Gingrich mostly skipped the three-state race, focusing instead on Ohio and its vote on Super Tuesday, March 6.
A subdued Romney congratulated Santorum and said he'd press on.
"This was a good night for Rick Santorum," Romney told supporters in Denver on Tuesday. He offered a bit of forced optimism: "We'll keep on campaigning down the road, but I expect to become our nominee with your help."
Romney added, "When this primary season is over, we're going to stand united as a party behind our nominee to defeat Barack Obama."
In Washington, Republican senators tried to change the subject back to the controversy over the Obama administration's directive requiring church-affiliated employers to cover birth control for their employees regardless of the institutions' religious beliefs. The senators, some of whom have endorsed Romney, only acknowledged the Republican nomination fight when asked. And then, not in particularly revealing terms.
Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, who is in charge of Romney's campaign for congressional and other endorsements, noted that Romney didn't spend much, if any, money or time on that state's contest, while Santorum did. What should Romney do going forward? "I think it's a serious process and they should take it all seriously," Blunt said.
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, where Romney trounced his competitors Jan. 31, congratulated Santorum but deflected questions about the results and their meaning. "I just have not had a lot of time to do political analysis," he said.
Santorum cast the results as a victory for a purer form of conservatism than Romney has offered, heard more clearly by voters across the nation's midsection without a deafening TV air war that Romney has dominated.
The former Pennsylvania senator said in a nationally broadcast interview Wednesday that he thinks conservative Republicans "are beginning to get" that he represents the party's best chance to oust Obama.
He also ripped into Romney's compromises on health care, economic bailouts and cap and trade and mocking Romney's attempt to be seen as the political outsider in 2012.
"Gov. Romney, Mr. Outsider, was for government takeover in health care, was for government takeover of the private sector of the Wall street bailout and was for the government takeover of industry and energy with the cap and trade," Santorum said on CNN. "So Mr. Private Sector was Mr. Big Government when he was out there running for the private sector."
In the glow of victory, he looked past Romney to the general election. As the Republicans fight, Obama watches from his perch in the White House — and waits.
"I don't stand here to be the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney, I stand here to be the conservative alternative to Barack Obama," Santorum said Tuesday night.
2012 GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum joins Morning Joe to talk about his big wins Tuesday night in Colorado, Missouri and Minnesota. Santorum also discusses why he believes the Obama administration routinely tramples on the First Amendment.
Romney wasn't the only loser.
On the first day of multistate voting, the trio of contests exposed a glaring deficiency for Gingrich.
The former House speaker lacked the resources and organization to compete just as he's trying to project strength heading into Super Tuesday. He made only minimal efforts in the three states that voted Tuesday and stayed out of sight as the results rolled in. Gingrich is focusing on Ohio, where early voting for the March 6 primary has begun.
To be fair, Tuesday's contests will have little bearing on the race for delegates. Missouri's nonbinding primary in particular was little more than an extensive warm-up routine. The state will hold an official caucus in March.
But even symbolic victories can produce or slow momentum.
Romney's camp began downplaying the results hours before the voting began. Rich Beeson, his political director, released a memo earlier in the day noting that even McCain lost 19 states on the way to capturing the nomination in 2008.
Following Maine's low-profile caucuses, which conclude Saturday, the candidates will have an extended 17-day lull.
The verdict from last night’s races in CO, MN, and MO: Romney gets rejected… Santorum sweeps all three contests, but can he capitalize in Arizona or Michigan?... A rough night for Gingrich and Paul… Romney: My father was a carpenter… You know the economy is improving when the culture war comes roaring back… Team Obama’s tough week… And four additional points on the contraception debate.
Emmanuel Dunand / AFP - Getty Images
Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney holds a campaign rally at RV America in Loveland, Colorado, February 7, 2012.
By NBC’s Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Brooke Brower
*** Romney gets rejected: If anything has summed up this GOP nominating race so far, it's the tale of the on-again, off-again front-runner Mitt Romney. The rivals, contests, and events might change, but this storyline has been pretty consistent over the past several months: Just when it looks like Romney is about to pull away with the nomination, he comes back down to earth. And that happened again last night with Rick Santorum sweeping the contests in Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri. Yes, the Missouri primary amounted to a beauty contest. And, yes, the delegates in Colorado and Missouri technically won’t be awarded until later (pretty much like how it works in Iowa). But you can’t dismiss that voters and caucus-goers in these three states rejected Romney. Every time the former Massachusetts governor has won a contest, it has been due to his significant campaign war chest and Super PAC, his organization, and even geography. But it’s never been because his message is resonating with the conservative base of the party, the very folks who participated in last night’s Colorado and Minnesota caucuses.
*** Santorum’s big night -- but can he capitalize in Arizona or Michigan? We’ve now had eight contests (IA, NH, SC, FL, NV, CO, MN, MO) and Romney has victories in just three of them. And guess what: Santorum has now won four. We wrote yesterday that the races in Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri were do-or-die time for Santorum, and he more than came through. Eight contests in, and you have to conclude that Santorum -- someone who was getting almost no attention last summer and fall -- has been the biggest surprise of the GOP nominating race. The question for him: Can he capitalize on last night’s success. One thing that certainly helps him: The current national debate (contraception, gay marriage, abortion) is clearly in his wheelhouse. If the theme of the Republican presidential contest has been the on-again, off-again front-runner, then another story has been the inability of Romney’s rivals from capitalizing on their success. Last month, Santorum was unable to get a bounce from Iowa. And Newt Gingrich couldn’t cash in on his South Carolina win. So can Santorum make a move in Arizona or Michigan on Feb. 28? The answer to that question will determine if Romney goes back to becoming the on-again front-runner three weeks from now.
NBC's Chuck Todd tells TODAY's Ann Curry that Rick Santorum's sweep of Tuesday's GOP presidential contests was a "rejection by conservatives of Mitt Romney."
*** Santorum to plant his flag in Michigan: On “Morning Joe,” Santorum said he was going to “plant” the flag in Michigan, and he hinted that he’d only go to Arizona to participate in the debates. On paper, this may seem like an odd decision, but Santorum is banking on: 1) that his blue collar conservative message has a better chance of resonating in Michigan than Arizona; and 2) that he can actually win some delegates in Michigan since Arizona is winner-take-all and second place gets you squat. That said, Romney has two built in advantages in both states. In Arizona, it’s the large Mormon vote. In Michigan, it’s the fact that his father was governor and he is a favorite son of sorts. Santorum’s gambling that it’s easier to potentially shock Romney in a virtual home state than contend with Romney’s strength in the Mormon community.
*** A rough night for Newt and Paul: Last night was a pretty rough one for Gingrich, as he finished third in Colorado, fourth in Minnesota, and wasn’t on the beauty-contest ballot in Missouri. However, the best thing that happened to him is that Santorum swept -- including in Colorado, which Romney was expected to win -- and made the story more about the front-runner’s struggles rather than Gingrich’s back-of-the pack finishes. Romney now has this challenge: His faces a two-front war against both Gingrich and Santorum, men who have their weaknesses (not much money, little organization) but also their strengths (the South for Newt, the culture battles for Santorum). As for Paul, he finished second in Minnesota, third in Missouri, and fourth in Colorado -- disappointing showings for an organization that was supposed to do well, especially in the caucuses. And get this: Paul is the only remaining GOP candidate who’s yet to win a contest.
*** Romney: “My father was a carpenter”: Who is Mitt Romney? It’s been a question he has struggled to answer. He desperately wants a better narrative than successful businessman from a prominent family, because last night he described his father -- the head of an automotive company, a former governor of Michigan, and former cabinet secretary -- as being a carpenter. “My father never graduated from college. He apprenticed as a lath and plaster carpenter. And he's pretty good at it,” Romney said last night. “He actually could take a handful of nails, stick them in his mouth, and then, you know, spit them out, pointy end forward. On his honeymoon, he put aluminum paint in the trunk of the car and sold it along the way to pay for the gas in the hotels.” Romney added, “But my dad believed in America. And in the America he believed in, a lath and plaster guy could work out to become head of a car company.” It’s hard not to interpret those remarks as Romney trying so hard to persuade voters that he was successful without having any advantages in life. That said, George Romney’s biography would probably play well right now. The problem for Mitt Romney: That’s not HIS biography.
*** Turnout was down: Just like in Nevada and Florida, turnout in last night’s contests was down. In Colorado, turnout was down 6.7% from 2008. The total that voted this time around was 65,489 with 100% reporting, according to the Colorado Republican Party; in 2008, it was 70,229. In Minnesota, turnout was off by about a quarter (24%). In 2008, 62,828 came out, but this time around just 47,801 turned out. And in Missouri -- which was a beauty contest, instead of a real contest -- turnout was down 57% with 251,868 coming out in 2012, and with 588,844 voting in 2008. (CORRECTION: The turnout percent change for Missouri has been corrected.)
*** The culture war comes roaring back: You know the economy must be improving when cultural and social issues come roaring back into the national spotlight. Just days after the unemployment rate decreased to 8.3%, we’ve seen a raging debate over funding to Planned Parenthood, a skirmish between the Obama administration and Catholic Church over contraception, and now the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that California’s Prop. 8 -- which outlawed gay marriage in the state -- is unconstitutional. As we’ve said before, the economy will likely remain the top story in November’s general election. But events overseas, as well as inside this country, can change the issue matrix in the blink of an eye. And the question has to be asked: If the debate between now and the spring is about social issues -- and not the economy -- how much does that hurt Romney? And help Santorum?
*** Team Obama’s tough week: As we’ve pointed out, Mitt Romney had a rough week last week -- after “I’m not concerned about the very poor,” the Trump endorsement, and January’s jobs report. But this week, it’s Team Obama in the hot seat, whether it’s the debate over contraception or its reversal on Super PACs (for which the New York Times editorial page criticizes them today). It’s a reminder that the political pendulum always swings, and a winning campaign is usually determined by who best deals with (or sidesteps) their rough weeks.
*** Four additional points about the contraception debate: We have some additional points about the contraception debate. One, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is going all in on the issue, reminding us of how he used the Gitmo debate in ’09 to politically bruise Obama. Two, we’re hearing from the White House that while they’ve made their contraception policy, they’ve yet to unveil the actual rule, and they hope that RULE (which comes from HHS) will make it clear to critics that they’re listening. Three, the struggles the White House has had on this issue continues to be a pattern -- they’ve had an inability to message messy policy decisions. Why didn’t they immediately line up women’s organizations to support them? Why didn’t they try reaching out to prominent Catholics who normally back them? And four, don’t think that this contraception debate is one-sided: While one side has been VERY loud (the Catholic Church, its supporters, the politicians who have seized on this issue), contraception is hardly a controversial topic for most Americans; without it, you wouldn’t see women in the workplace, in political office, or in other places outside the home. It’s a pretty simple fact…
*** On the 2012 trail, per NBC’s Adam Perez: Gingrich tours Cleveland, OH…Santorum stumps in the Lone Star State, making stops in McKinney, Allen, and Plano…And Romney campaigns in Atlanta, GA.
Countdown to Super Tuesday: 27 days Countdown to Election Day: 272 days
Looking for the best thing on late night TV Tuesday? No sweat. Or, perhaps more accurately -- sweat. Jimmy Fallon's fitness competition with First Lady Michelle Obama on "Late Night" was the highlight.
Fallon said he was inspired by Obama's exhortations to be healthier, but after he heard her say that it's hard to inspire our children to get up and move when they see us lying on the couch watching TV, he had one bone to pick: "Yes, exercise is important, but it's also important to be back on that couch at 12:37 so you can watch this show," he said.
The first lady's "Let's Move" campaign has sent her on the talk show rounds recently, and she's proved that she can take on just about any television host. Last week, she beat Ellen DeGeneres in a push-up competition. Tuesday night, Fallon visited her at the White House for a potato-sack race, hula hoops swing-off, dodge ball toss, Tug-o-War and a session of push-ups.
Needless to say, the FLOTUS beat Fallon soundly. And bonus: Bo, the Obama family's adorably fluffy dog, also made a cameo.
As Fallon noted at the end, it's about having fun -- it doesn't matter whether you won or lost. But Obama had a different perspective: "It matters."
Also Tuesday night, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum shocked everyone with a sweep of the GOP presidential contests in Missouri, Colorado and Minnesota, beating frontrunner Mitt Romney.
On "Live!," Jimmy Kimmel pointed out the fact that the Missouri primary was a waste of everyone's time (that is, since none of the state's delegates were awarded last night). Kimmel then went on to laud Newt Gingrich for staying in the race. After all the reports of infidelity, this is turning out to be the one commitment that Gingrich has been able to stick with, Kimmel joked.
Kimmel also pointed to a recent comment from Romney that Americans were the "only people on Earth" who put their hands over their hearts when hearing their national anthem -- and then Kimmel showed a number of photos of non-Americans doing just that, and introduced an alleged campaign ad Romney has put out that seemed a little "shaky" on the details: America has the tallest mountain in the world -- Mt. Rushmore; America has the biggest city on the planet, Houston. You get the idea. Nothing like a little hyperbole to kick the campaign into high gear, eh?
And for those who are wondering where Jon and Stephen went -- "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" and "The Colbert Report" aren't running fresh shows this week. Maybe they're off figuring out what to do with all that Super PAC money.
House Republicans have introduced their version of a bill to ban insider trading by thousands of federal officials, and have added provisions to bar lawmakers convicted of a felony from collecting their government pensions.
In a provision aimed directly at Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, the bill, introduced late Tuesday, would ban lawmakers from using their positions to invest in initial public offerings of stock. Pelosi has denied that she did anything like that.
The Republicans wiped out a key provision in the Senate version of the bill that would have required so-called "political intelligence" firms to register and file disclosure reports, as lobbyists must. These are companies that try to pick up information from lawmakers, then pass it on to investment firms and their clients.
The growing political intelligence industry had lobbied hard to get the Republicans to either modify or eliminate the provision, arguing that the language was too broad. Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., substituted a congressional study of these firms — essentially taking no action. The reporting requirement was inserted into the Senate's bill by a Republican, Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa.
Under the House bill, new stock transactions would have to be reported either 30 days after a covered individual was notified of a transaction in his or her account or 45 days after the transaction. The bill would apply, according to Cantor, to about 30,000 employees in the executive branch. It would cover the president and vice president, and President Barack Obama has said he would sign the legislation.
While the Senate passed its version of the bill 96-3 last week following bipartisan negotiations, House Democrats were furious that Cantor never consulted them about the provisions of the bill.
In addition, Republicans were considering bringing the bill to a vote Thursday under a procedure that would not allow any amendments.
That was especially galling to Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., who has been trying to get an insider trading bill passed for six years and has close to 300 co-sponsors, including nearly 100 Republicans.
Sponsorship of the bill by Slaughter and Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., soared after a recent CBS "60 Minutes" segment that reported current and former members of Congress used information received during their official duties to invest in the stock market.
The show reported that Pelosi's husband invested in a large Visa IPO in 2008 around the time the House — then under Democratic control — was considering legislation to lower credit card fees. Pelosi denied any wrongdoing, and said there was no connection between the investment and the legislation.
The bill passed two years later, and Pelosi voted for it. It did not pass in 2008, a Pelosi aide said, because it came to floor at the end of the session — when the House was passing the biggest bailout of financial institutions in the nation's history.
The aide, who was not authorized to be quoted by name to discuss the investment, said Pelosi's husband made the IPO purchase through his existing broker at Wells Fargo.
The aide pointed out that the Visa IPO was among the largest ever at $17.9 billion.
The "60 Minutes" program also raised questions about stock purchases by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Rep. Spencer Bachus, R-Ala., the current chairman of the House Financial Services Committee. Both denied any wrongdoing.
The House is expected to pass the bill overwhelmingly, and it almost certainly will end up in a conference committee to reconcile the differences with the Senate.
Conservative and centrist congressional Democrats are joining the chorus of voices urging President Barack Obama to reverse or modify a decision made by Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius to not exempt health insurance plans sponsored by religious-affiliated employers from the requirement to provide contraception as part of their basic benefit package.
Under the 2010 health care law, Congress gave Sebelius the power define the minimum essential benefits package in most of the nation’s health insurance plans.
Most of the outrage over the decision has come from religious groups and Republicans but some Democrats are uneasy as well. Sen. Bob Casey, D- Pa., said Tuesday morning he hadn’t yet gotten a response to his letter to Obama asking him to reverse Sebelius’s decision, but “it’s something I’m sure we’ll be having further discussions with the administration about,” he said,
Obama political advisor David Axelrod said on MSNBC Tuesday, “This is an important issue … We want to resolve it in an appropriate way and we’re going to do that.”
Speaking for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan, said on Jan. 20, the day Sebelius made her announcement, that the administration had "ordered almost every employer and insurer in the country to provide sterilization and contraceptives, including some abortion-inducing drugs, in their health plans.”
Meanwhile some congressional Democrats were working behind the scenes Tuesday to persuade Obama to reverse course; some warned of a potential threat to the president’s re-election chances in states with large Catholic populations such as Pennsylvania, where Catholics accounted for a third of the electorate according to 2008 exit polls.
It’s not clear how much of an effect the controversy will have on the estimated 47 percent of self-identified Catholic voters who said they supported for Obama in 2008.
But some Democratic supporters of Obama and of his health care law were emphatic in their opposition to the choice the administration had made.
“It’s a question of whether or not we’re going to allow -- as we should -- an institution that has a religious mission to make decisions that are consistent with their faith tradition,” Casey said. “Unfortunately what this does is impose upon them rules that I don’t think we should impose upon an institution that has a faith mission.”
Casey said he wants to preserve women’s access to contraception. “There’s a way to do this, and not run afoul of the religious freedoms that I think an institution should be able to exercise,” he said. “I think we can get this balance right … It means working out a compromise that makes sense to everybody.”
Casey is running for a second term this year.
Republicans may try to put the issue to a vote in the House and Senate. But that could end up benefiting Democrats who seek to distance themselves Obama on this issue by giving them a chance to show their opposition.
Another Democratic senator up for re-election this November, Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri said Tuesday afternoon, she didn’t know if the administration would change its position.
“I think they are going to look at various options. I haven’t talked to anyone in the administration about this … about whether or not there’s a way to find something similar to what they’ve done in Hawaii where there’s a rider” -- an add-on to an insurance policy -- and “the costs are so de minimis that it doesn’t in any way punish the women who want to access birth control.”
She added, “I’m hopeful they can work out a situation with riders, like they have in Hawaii, that might work out in these instances. Keep in mind there are a lot of Catholic hospitals and universities that are dealing with this right now and have been for a number of years.”
She said those opposed abortion “need to quit putting barriers” to women’s access to birth control. “We should be trying very hard to give women universal access to birth control” without them having to pay for it themselves.
Asked about the Catholic bishops’ statement that some contraceptives may cause abortion, McCaskill said, “I’m somebody who believes the morning after pill is particularly important, especially for rape victims.” She said she was “someone has spent a lot of time in the courtroom prosecuting rape cases,” as a former attorney in Missouri.
Another Democratic Senate candidate, Rep. Joe Donnelly, D- Ind., who also voted for the Affordable Care Act, said he was “puzzled” by the Sebelius decision. “I’ve sent my position to the White House.”
Sebelius gave nonprofits who, based on religious beliefs, don’t provide contraceptive coverage in their insurance plan until August 2013 to comply.
Updated 1:23 a.m. ET - Rick Santorum swept three nominating contests held Tuesday, upsetting frontrunner Mitt Romney and injecting new energy into the former Pennsylvania senator's campaign.
Santorum scored broad victories in the Minnesota caucus and a primary in Missouri, according to NBC News projections. But Santorum's most significant upset came in Colorado, where the state GOP declared him the apparent victor in caucuses there.
Romney made his hardest push of the three states in Colorado, having campaigned there and spent money on advertising. Santorum's upset raises fresh doubts about the breadth of Romney's appeal to Republicans, and abates some of the momentum Romney had built from consecutive victories in the Florida primary and Nevada caucus.
Still, the former Pennsylvania senator drew contrasts with Romney throughout his remarks, saying Romney "has the same positions as Barack Obama" on a number of issues close to conservatives. Santorum also made a disapproving nod toward Romney's gaffe last week in which the former Massachusetts governor said his campaign was "not concerned about the very poor."
"I care about the very rich and the very poor," Santorum told supporters. "I care about 100 percent of America."
The Romney campaign had begun to downplay expectations for its finish in Missouri and Minnesota, though the Colorado finish seemed more genuinely surprising to Romney. Throughout the campaign, Romney, the tentative frontrunner, has been dogged by questions about his ability to close the deal with Republicans — questions that will be furthered by Tuesday night's returns.
Romney conceded in remarks just before midnight in the East Coast that "this was a good night for Rick Santorum."
Rick Santorum swept Tuesday's Republican presidential contests in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri, sending a signal to Romney that voters are still skeptical of his conservative credentials. NBC's Peter Alexander reports.
Santorum had campaigned last week in Missouri, Minnesota, and Colorado — while Romney, Newt Gingrich and Texas Rep. Ron Paul campaigned in Nevada. Since Saturday's Nevada caucuses, Romney has basically campaigned only in Colorado.
While NBC News will not project allotments of delegates based off the results, Santorum's sweep provides a new springboard for his campaign heading into a crucial stretch for the campaign.
The former Massachusetts governor had been seen as a marginal favorite in the contests simply because of his organizational strength. Romney had also won the 2008 Minnesota caucus. This cycle, he fell to third, behind Santorum and Paul.
The winner of Jan. 3's Iowa caucuses by a razor-thin margin, Santorum had focused on winning over the same brew of social conservatives and Republicans not ready to settle for Romney during his campaign efforts.
"Tonight's victory should put to bed the idea that the Republican nomination for Mitt Romney is inevitable," said Stuart Roy, an adviser to the pro-Santorum super PAC, the Red, White and Blue Fund.
The victories, however, are somewhat informal. Missouri will host a separate caucus next month to allocate its delegates, and the Minnesota and Colorado caucus results are non-binding.
NBC's Chuck Todd tells TODAY's Ann Curry that Rick Santorum's sweep of Tuesday's GOP presidential contests was a "rejection by conservatives of Mitt Romney."
Romney had been looking to keep alive an unbeaten streak, which started last Tuesday in Florida and continued through Saturday night's Nevada caucus. But his campaign started to play down expectations for his performance in these contests after signs of momentum for Santorum had begun to emerge.
"Of course, there is no way for any nominee to win first place in every single contest … and we expect our opponents to notch a few wins too," Romney political director Rich Beeson wrote in a memo to reporters. "It is difficult to see what Governor Romney’s opponents can do to change the dynamics of the race in February."
Romney said earlier in the evening that he was "pretty confident" he'd finish first or second in Colorado, which also hosted caucuses Tuesday evening, before adding that he expects to become the GOP nominee when the primary concludes.
Romney's campaign had additionally waged an offensive against Santorum late in the weekend, looking to stymie his climb much as they had done with Gingrich in Florida.
Santorum's late surge undercuts Romney's claim to being the GOP campaign's sole frontrunner. He'd sought to cruise through the lighter schedule in February. By contrast, Santorum had the most to gain from proving he can upset the former Massachusetts governor. Alternatively, had Santorum been unable to beat Romney despite his intense focus on these contests, it would have raised questions about his viability going forward.
"Gov. Romney is uniquely unqualified to take on the most important issue in this election," Santorum said yesterday in Rochester, referring to the health care reforms Romney had supported in Massachusetts. "Gov. Romney is dead wrong on the most important issue of the day and he should not be our nominee."
The Romney campaign saw its best chances tonight in Colorado, where they have spent money on advertising, and where Romney has done most of his campaigning since winning in Nevada.
But having been injected with a new twist, the Republican primary campaign is set to move forward with no ending on the horizon, meaning Republicans' focus will remain more on each other than the general election match-up against President Obama.
Paul has signaled that his campaign will continue to focus on select caucuses, reflecting their sense that Paul is best positioned to pick up delegates in those kinds of contests. The libertarian-minded congressman stressed the delegate battle in remarks late Tuesday evening.
GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul thanks supporters for their effort following a strong showing in that state.
Arizona and Michigan's primaries are the next test for the candidates; Romney was raised in Michigan, where his father also served as governor. He's seen as the early favorite in the Wolverine State.
The biggest point of emphasis, though, will come on March 6 -- Super Tuesday. A number of large states host primaries and caucuses that day, and the candidates are already turning their attention to those states.
Gingrich, for instance, spent Tuesday campaigning in Ohio, the key swing state which hosts its primary on Super Tuesday.
Santorum, meanwhile, is expected to continue on Wednesday to Texas, whose primary date is in flux due to litigation over the state's congressional redistricting map.
Earlier this morning, we wrote that President Obama and his campaign would be taking heat from good-government groups, the media, and liberals on their decision to encourage donors to give money to a pro-Obama Super PAC.
Two of those groups (the good-government groups and media) have followed through with their criticism. But with one notable exception -- former Sen. Russ Feingold -- the left so far has largely supported the move.
Here are a few takes from prominent liberal bloggers and writers, who've sometimes openly disagreed with the president:
[T]here's a reasonable case to be made that the president and his team are simply adapting to circumstances beyond their control. The far-right and well-financed Republican super PACs are going to exist and will spend hundreds of millions of dollars in 2012, whether Obama likes it or not. The question, then, is whether the president and his allies are prepared to fight fire with fire. As of today, the answer appears to be "yes."
The phrase “unilateral disarmament” has been used, in a negative sense, to justify a lot of unjustifiable behavior. But President Obama’s argument against unilateral disarmament in the super PAC war seems totally persuasive.
Super PACs have already become a huge factor in this presidential race. Wishing them away won’t do a bit of good, and until such time as the composition of the Supreme Court changes, they will remain an unfortunate but immovable part of the political landscape.
Outside money of this nature is bad for democracy, no matter who is spending it. But here are the plain facts of the matter. Obama and Democrats tried to pass legislation that would have limited outside money and ended non-disclosure; Republicans opposed it. Democrats would close down their Super PACs tomorrow if Republicans agreed to do the same.
So Dems have a choice: Either they can lead by example — which is to say, by setting an example that Republicans will never agree to — and give the GOP a lopsided advantage in outside spending and the tsunami of ads it will finance. Or they can play by the rules as Republicans have defined them, and continue to work to change those rules.
Do-or-die time for Santorum… And further breaking down tonight’s contests in Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri.
Charles Rex Arbogast / AP
Republican presidential candidate, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum speaks about healthcare, Monday, Feb. 6, 2012, in Rochester, Minn.
By NBC's Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
*** Do-or-die time for Santorum: While they haven't received the same kind of attention as the other early nominating contests, today's races in Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri are worth keeping in mind for three reasons. First, they have more projected delegates at stake -- a combined 76 (40 in Minnesota, 36 in Colorado, and zero in Missouri, whose delegates will be determined a later date) -- than all the combined delegates for Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. Second, they all occur in presidential battleground states. And third, they give Mitt Romney's challengers, particularly Rick Santorum, the opportunity to upset Romney. Indeed, if Santorum is going to make a serious move now, it's going to come in one of the caucus contests, where either a more conservative or better organized candidate can pull off a victory. Bottom line: It’s do-or-die time for Santorum, and he needs to win two of these three races (Minnesota and the beauty contest of Missouri) to keep his White House chances alive. By the way, today is going to be a tough day for Newt Gingrich; the only question is whether he’ll finish third or fourth in all three. There’s a reason why he’s in Ohio today…
Republican presidential hopefuls have been campaigning in advance of contests Tuesday in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri with a total of 70 delegates up for grabs. NBC's Peter Alexander reports.
*** Breaking down tonight’s Colorado caucuses: Per NBC’s John Bailey, Colorado’s caucuses work very similarly to Iowa’s. Starting at 9:00 pm ET (7:00 pm local time), Republicans will gather at nearly 3,000 locations across the state to participate in a presidential-preference straw poll conducted by secret paper ballot. The results are then counted, announced to the caucus, and called into county headquarters. Results will be posted beginning at about 10:30 pm ET at http://results.cologop.org/. The state party hopes to have the statewide results totaled and compiled by 12:30 am or 1:00 am ET. At stake are 36 delegates. But just like in Iowa, the delegates to attend the national convention in Tampa will be elected at subsequent state and congressional-district assemblies and conventions. In 2008, slightly more than 70,000 Republicans turned out in Colorado’s caucuses.
*** Breaking down tonight’s Minnesota caucuses: Minnesota, NBC’s Bailey adds, works very similarly to Iowa and Colorado. All caucuses start at 8:00 pm ET (7:00 pm local time). They elect caucus leadership and then conduct the preference poll. In 2008, about 65,000 Republicans turned out, and the party hopes to have similar turnout this time. Unlike the other states, Minnesota’s caucuses report their results to the secretary of state. The state party estimates results will begin being posted on the secretary of state’s website at about 9:00 pm ET (8:00PM CT). Forty delegates are at stake, but like in Colorado and Iowa, Minnesota will actually choose the individuals who will go to Tampa at its later conventions.
*** Breaking down tonight’s Missouri primary (which is really a beauty contest): Today’s primary in Missouri is nonbinding – essentially a beauty contest – and its delegates will be awarded at a later date. But that hasn’t stopped the pro-Santorum Red, White, and Blue Fund Super PAC from running advertisements in the Show Me State.
*** On the 2012 trail: Romney holds a rally in Loveland, CO… Santorum also hits a rally in Colorado, in Colorado Springs, before heading to an event in Blaine, MN… And Gingrich campaigns in Ohio.
Texas is all but certain to have an even later say in choosing the Republican presidential nominee after what at first looked like a breakthrough deal in a bitter dispute over redistricting maps ended with wide rejection of the proposal.
That left the date of the Texas primaries in limbo Tuesday, a day after a court-imposed deadline for the state and minority advocacy groups to compromise came and went without temporary maps that everyone could agree on for the 2012 elections.
A San Antonio federal court had told both sides to reach a deal by Monday or see the April 3 primary date pushed back a second time. The Texas attorney general's office appeared to hit the deadline by announcing an agreement with some of the groups, but that was soon overshadowed by other prominent black and Hispanic organizations blasting the deal.
The court also appeared to reject the partial deal, as U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia urged talks to continue toward "a general agreement between all" parties.
Now the date of the Texas primaries is in doubt again.
Republicans feared that another delay could prevent Texas voters from helping decide which GOP candidate challenges President Barack Obama in November. Republican and Democratic party leaders have said an April 17 vote may be possible absent a deal if the court could quickly draw revised maps.
The advocacy groups are suing the state, alleging that the Republican-controlled Legislature ignored the state's burgeoning Hispanic population when it redrew boundaries for congressional and state legislative districts.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott had optimistically introduced the partially agreed plan earlier Monday. It had the backing of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, one of the largest groups that sued the state.
Under the proposal, Hispanics would control two of four new congressional seats that Texas was awarded following the 2010 census, which reflected the state's population boom in the last decade. But apart from MALDEF and Democratic U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas, most others involved in the lawsuit said the proposal fell far short of a fair compromise.
Luis Vera, an attorney for the League of United Latin American Citizens, scoffed at the new deal and accused the state of overselling the number of plaintiffs that signed off on it. Late Monday, his group and six of the other nine plaintiffs filed court briefs formally opposing the plan.
Vera said talks had halted, adding: "There's no agreement, and there's nothing to talk about."
In a written statement late Monday, Abbott didn't acknowledge the judge's order but said his office "has worked with a wide range of interest groups to incorporate reasonable requests from all parties" without compromising the will of the Texas Legislature. He has said a primary likely couldn't be organized before April 17.
When asked earlier Monday if he was happy with the proposed compromise, Abbott said "it's a step in the right direction." He said failure to reach a consensus wasn't for a lack of trying.
MALDEF attorney Nina Perales said the maps put forward by Abbott came very close to what her organization requested. She said that in addition to creating two new Hispanic-dominated congressional districts, the plan also created two Hispanic-majority districts in the Texas House and restored two Hispanic districts in the Rio Grande Valley and Nueces County.
"Although they are not perfect, the plans that have been released by the state today ... more fairly reflect the growing strength of Latino voters in Texas," Perales said. "They properly recognize that protecting voting rights is more important than partisanship or incumbency protection."
But most of the groups suing the state said the deal was no compromise. The Mexican American Legislative Caucus argued that the new plan actually dilutes minority influence in some areas. Its chairman, Democratic state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, said the two Hispanic congressional seats would come on the condition of losing ground in other districts currently dominated by Hispanic voters.
"If you tell me we're going to get these seats at the expense of another district, that's not a win," he said.
In Washington, another federal court is weighing a separate case challenging whether maps drawn by the Texas Legislature were legal. Since Texas is one of nine states with a history of racial discrimination, the Washington court or the U.S. Department of Justice must pre-approve any changes to state election laws. A ruling in that case isn't expected for at least another month.
The stakes are unusually high because the nation's second-largest state is adding four congressional seats — and the way they are divvyed up could be pivotal in determining which party controls the U.S. House.
The Texas Legislature got the first crack at drawing new maps for Congress and the Statehouse, but their plan was quickly challenged by Cuellar and minority groups.
If the court rejects the compromise, the judges could split the primaries into two elections — one for the presidential race, and a later one for state and congressional elections that are at the mercy of where map lines are settled.
A split primary would let parties hold their conventions on schedule — but could cost taxpayers $15 million.
Republican legislative leaders argued that they drew the original maps merely to benefit their party's candidates, but minority groups claim they discriminate by diluting the voting power of blacks and Hispanics. All states must redraw political districts following the census every 10 years to adjust for population changes.
After back-to-back fiascos in Nevada and Iowa, the term "caucus" may be on its way to becoming a bad word in the GOP lexicon.
Those troubled contests cast a shadow over the volunteer-run presidential selection process as the GOP's caucus season begins Tuesday night in Colorado and Minnesota. In all, 10 states are scheduled to hold caucuses in February and March.
For now, national Republicans have shied away from calling for the end of caucuses in favor of straight-vote primaries. Critics say it is only a matter of time before the caucus troubles become too great to ignore.
"The average voter does not want to go to an event that is going to take one, two or three hours," said Republican state Assemblyman Pat Hickey of Reno. "In that regard, I think it doesn't work well, especially in states like Nevada."
Nevada Republicans finally released the results of their Saturday caucuses early Monday morning, after volunteers had stayed up for nearly 48 hours counting and recounting votes in a contest that saw only 33,000 votes cast, about 9 percent of the state's registered Republicans. Party leaders said they wanted to take their time to avoid another Iowa.
Last month, Iowa initially called its first-in-the-nation presidential race for Mitt Romney by eight votes, only to have allegations of impropriety surface. Two weeks later Iowa Republicans announced that — oops — Rick Santorum had actually won by 34 votes. The head of the Iowa GOP said he would resign.
Republican Party leaders in other states said they were confident that they could avoid the problems that defined the Nevada and Iowa contests, but they also acknowledged that a caucus system requires much more work than a primary, which is overseen by the government.
In Colorado, Republicans have been holding weekly training sessions to explain the complicated voting process to volunteers. In Minnesota, Republicans say they will release the results from each precinct as they are counted.
"We've done a lot of training for our caucus conveners," said Heather Rubash, spokeswoman for the Minnesota GOP, which held presidential caucuses in 2004 and 2008. "It hasn't been a problem in the past."
Caucuses are generally party-run nomination contests that require voters to show up at a certain time and listen as their neighbors discuss the candidates. Only once that's done do voters get to cast their ballots.
In most cases, there are no voter machines to tally up the results, no professional staff to ensure every vote is counted equally and no dashing into the local polling place to vote between errands.
All of that adds up to an error-prone system that can leave voters confused and disinterested in voting and, in some cases, on the alert for potential fraud.
"It's a lot of folks to train and a lot of information," said Chuck Poplstein, executive director of the Colorado GOP. "It's not an easy situation if you are just walking into it."
In Nevada, hints of caucus trouble were evident long before voters showed up Saturday. Party leaders changed the date twice and allowed the county parties to set their own rules, which meant there was no uniform voting method or start time across the state.
On Election Day, there were many voting locations where even the people in charge had never attended a caucus before. Some voters were turned away after showing up late thinking they could cast a ballot anytime throughout the day, as they might in a primary.
The real trouble began as party leaders started to release results late Saturday night. GOP leaders in Clark County, where more than half of all Republicans live and the home of Las Vegas, said they planned to stay up all night counting the ballots. The results were finally released just before 2 a.m. local time Monday.
"I might be the only person left in the Nevada Republican Party that still likes caucuses," acting GOP Chairman James Smack said during the vote count.
Romney won the contest, as he did in 2008. Newt Gingrich finished a distant second, followed closely by Ron Paul. Santorum came in last.
It was the second time Nevada's GOP caucuses crashed and burned. In 2008, only 44,000 voters showed up and state leaders vowed to do better. Instead, turnout dropped by more than 10,000 voters Saturday. There are 471,000 registered Republicans in Nevada.
Critics said the arcane caucus format might be to blame for the low turnout.
"The conversations I've heard for over a year is: 'Why are we still doing this caucus? Nobody likes it,'" said Cheryl Van Ocker, a GOP activist in rural northern Nevada. "They would like to have a primary."
So why would any state choose to hold a caucus instead of a traditional primary?
For one thing, caucuses generally don't cost taxpayers a cent, a big plus among tea party Republicans concerned about excessive government spending. While public dollars are used to cover the cost of primaries, caucuses are paid for by each local and state political party.
Proponents claim caucuses also create a sense of community, allowing neighbors to civilly debate politics and elect precinct captains who can go on to make important decisions within the state party.
"It connects and energizes people in a way that going into the voting booth doesn't," said Jill Derby, a former Nevada Democratic chairwoman who hosted the state's successful Democratic caucuses in 2008.
Still, Derby cautioned: "It takes tremendous organization. You have to do the work to train people."
On Saturday, Barbara Vallard, 75, signed into a caucus location in Las Vegas and then stood around, unsure of where she was supposed to go and how she could vote. Told she would have to wait until everyone had signed in before she could cast a ballot, she fretted that she was going to be late for an appointment.
But Vallard, a Romney supporter, said she wouldn't have it any other way.
"It's good to hear other people's beliefs," she said.
The Post said this is legal under ethics rules penned by lawmakers themselves.
The investigation into the holdings of all 535 members also revealed that 16 had steered federal funds to firms, colleges and programs where family members worked or sat on boards, the newspaper reported.
In one case, an Alabama senator directed more than $100 million in federal earmarks to upgrade an area near his office building in Tuscaloosa, according to the Post. Another representative reportedly earmarked $486,000 to build a bike lane to a bridge near a property she owned. (Click here for full results of the Washington Post investigation)
The Senate voted Monday afternoon to approve a House-passed bill aimed at improving the nation’s aviation infrastructure and modernizing air traffic control systems. The bill would provide more than $60 billion in funding through fiscal year 2015.
The Senate voted 75 to 20, ending a streak of 20 short-term funding extensions for the Federal Aviation Administration since 2007 as Democrats and Republicans struggled over a longer-term bill.
The House passed the bill last week on a vote of 248 to 169, with most Republicans voting for it and most Democrats voting against it.
A last-minute change in the bill, negotiated by House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, made the vote on the measure into a litmus test of support for organized labor.
Democrats were critical of the provision in the bill that they said weakens the ability of unions to try to organize workers in the aviation and railroad industries.
“I don’t get why you hate unions and working people. I really don’t understand that,” Rep. Peter DeFazio, D- Ore., said to Republicans during the House debate on Friday.
And Rep. George Miller, D- Calif., called the labor union provision in the bill “an example of why it is counterproductive to negotiate with hostage takers.”
But House Transportation Committee chairman Rep. John Mica, R- Fla., defended the labor provision saying, “it is fair to labor because it does requires a certain number of people to sign up to have the election” to determine whether workers want a union to bargain for them.
Airlines for America, the trade group that represents major U.S. airlines, supports the bill, with the group’s president Nicholas Calio calling it "great news for aviation, our customers and the 10 million jobs we enable. The bill establishes a much-needed long-term reauthorization that addresses the significant issues that previously blocked the legislation from moving forward.”
In addition to the labor union provision, another contentious issue in the bill was whether to phase out a program called Essential Air Service, which ensures that more than 100 smaller cities retain some link to the national air transportation system. Under the program, the federal government subsidizes some air carriers who serve smaller cities such as Dodge City, Kan., and Plattsburgh, N.Y.
Rep. Tom Petri, R- Wis., chairman of the Aviation Subcommittee, said the bill will abolish “the most egregious subsidies” in the Essential Air Service program.
Democrats who supported the bill said they were pleased that it did away with a provision in the original House-passed bill that would have phased out the Essential Air Service program entirely.
U.S. Senate candidate Pete Hoekstra has been accused of racism for a campaign ad against Michigan's incumbent senator, Debbie Stabenow. The ad features a young Asian woman riding a bicycle through a rice paddy – speaking broken English – and mocking Stabenow. Politico's Maggie Haberman reports.
"Thank you Michigan Sen. Debbie Spend-it-now. Debbie spends so much American money -- you borrow more and more from us. Your economy get very weak; ours get very good. We take your jobs," the woman says in the ad.
The backdrop is meant to evoke China. In a statement announcing the ad, Hoekstra decried "our reliance on foreign countries like China," a top buyer of American debt.
Hoekstra, a former Republican congressman who unsuccessfully pursued his party's gubernatorial nomination in 2010, appears at the end of the ad to tout his own fiscal hawkishness. The ad additionally directs viewers to a website featuring a variety of generic Asian imagery in connection to Stabenow.
The website includes Chinese script -- "Xianzai Daibi Hua" -- that roughly translates into "Now Debbie Spend."
Hoekstra's campaign paid $75,000 to air the ad in markets throughout Michigan during the Super Bowl, according to an Associated Press report on Sunday. It is his first ad in the Senate race.
The Michigan chapter of Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote said in a statement that the ad "plays on harmful stereotypes of Asians speaking broken English and has stereotypical Chinese music playing in the background."
An Asian woman is speaking in Pete Hoekstra's campaign ad that aired on Super Bowl Sunday, facetiously thanking Stabenow for encouraging federal spending.
"It is very disturbing that Mr. Hoekstra’s campaign chose to use harmful and negative stereotypes that intrinsically encourage anti-Asian sentiment," the group said Sunday.
The ad faced additional criticism from both Democrats and Republicans alike.
"Pete Hoekstra had a wardrobe malfunction this Super Bowl weekend and it was not pretty," said Shripal Shah, a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman.
Republican consultant Mike Murphy, meanwhile, wrote on Twitter: "Pete Hoekstra Superbowl TV ad in MI Senate race really, really dumb. I mean really."
In a wide-ranging interview at the White House, President Barack Obama talks to TODAY's Matt Lauer about Iran's nuclear ambitions, the presidential race, the economy and more.
By NBC News, msnbc.com staff and news services
WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama ordered new U.S. sanctions on the government of Iran, including the Central Bank, on Monday.
In a statement accompanying his order, Obama said the sanctions were warranted because of the "deceptive practices" of the Central Bank and the "unacceptable risk" posed to the international financial system by Iran's activities.
The order came amid new tensions in the Middle East and around the world over the potential of a unilateral strike by Israel on Iran's nuclear program.
"Among other things, the (executive order) freezes all property of the Central Bank of Iran and all other Iranian financial institutions, as well as all property of the Government of Iran, further tightening the already broad-based and stringent U.S. sanctions on Iran," according to a statement from the White House.
Obama says it is still possible to resolve the standoff over Iran's nuclear program through diplomatic efforts. His administration has sought to use sanctions as one way to pressure Iran to halt its nuclear program.
The executive order "reemphasizes this Administration's message to the Government of Iran -- it will face ever-increasing economic and diplomatic pressure until it addresses the international community's well-founded and well-documented concerns regarding the nature of its nuclear program."
According to a letter accompanying the executive order, the additional measures were needed because of "deceptive" practices by Iran's central bank.
"I have determined that additional sanctions are warranted, particularly in light of the deceptive practices of the Central Bank of Iran and other Iranian banks to conceal transactions of sanctioned parties, the deficiencies in Iran's anti-money laundering regime and the weaknesses in its implementation, and the continuing and unacceptable risk posed to the international financial system by Iran's activities," the letter provided by the White House read.
Will sanctions work? Tightening international sanctions against Iran look set to shrink its economy, push up inflation and further erode its currency, but they may fail to deliver a knock-out blow that forces Tehran to compromise on its nuclear ambitions, according to a Reuters report.
Few areas of Iran's economy now remain untouched by the sanctions. Because of payments difficulties, Iranian ships have in recent days stopped loading imports of Ukrainian grain. The United Arab Emirates has told its banks to stop financing Iran's trade with Dubai. Iranians are finding it more difficult to obtain hard currency to travel abroad.
But the history of sanctions against other countries, and the strengths of Iran's diverse and relatively self-reliant economy, suggest that as long as Tehran can find buyers for a large proportion of its oil, it will be able to limp along.
The pain will be felt throughout the country and could increase discontent with the government, but if President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad can cope with that political threat, there may be no overriding economic reason for him to back down.
"Iran can still scrape by," said Gary Hufbauer, a fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in the United States and a former U.S. Treasury official who has written extensively about the history of sanctions.
He ranks the measures against Iran - taken to stop what the West sees as Tehran's nuclear ambitions - as among the toughest international sanctions of the past 50 years, but not as harsh as those once imposed on Iraq, North Korea and Cuba - countries which defied economic pressure.
NBC News, msnbc.com staff , The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.
TODAY's Matt Lauer sits down exclusively with President Obama, who talks about the violence in Syria and the challenge of having a family life on the public stage.
Obama: “I deserve a second term”… The president also talks Iran and Syria… Romney’s rough week… He trails Obama by six points (51%-45%) in new WaPo/ABC poll… On contraception and the Catholic vote… On those Super Bowl car ads… Gingrich’s strategy to stay in the race… Paul’s disappointing 3rd-place finish in Nevada… And the disappointing GOP turnout.
By NBC's Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
*** “I deserve a second term”: Two things stood out to us in President Obama’s interview with NBC’s Matt Lauer before yesterday’s Super Bowl. First, when asked about his comment three years ago that his presidency would be a “one-term proposition” if he hadn’t turned the economy around, Obama responded, “I deserve a second term, but I am not done.” He added, “We've created 3.7 million jobs in the last 23 months. We've created the most jobs since 2005, the most manufacturing jobs since 1990, but we're not finished." And he concluded by saying that progress has been made on the economy, but that it’s important not to reverse that progress. The other thing that stood out to us: his comment that a president gets better as time goes on. When Lauer asked about some of his supporters being disappointed with the amount of change his administration has accomplished, Obama replied, “I'm going to just keep on doing is plodding away, very persistent. And you know what? One of the things about being president is you get better as time goes on.” It’s mildly surprising to hear a president say that, but it is also one of the truths the public does believe -- and it’s an additional hurdle for a potential challenger. In a close call election, the “don’t change horses in midstream” mantra can be a strong pull.
*** Obama talks Iran and Syria: And while we think we know the contours of the 2012 election -- namely, the economy’s direction -- the news coming out of Iran and Syria are additional reminders that its driving issue could change in the blink of an eye. Obama said this about Iran to Lauer: “We have done extensive planning over the last several years about all our various options in the gulf. And, you know, we are prepared to exercise these options should the need arise. But my goal is to try to resolve this diplomatically mainly, because the only way over the long term we can assure Iran doesn't get a nuclear weapon is by getting them to understand it's not in their interest.” On the violence in Syria, the president added, “I think it is very important for us to try to resolve this without recourse to outside military intervention. And I think that's possible. My sense is that you're seeing more and more people inside of Syria recognizing that they need to turn a chapter. And the Assad regime is feeling the noose tightening around them.”
Mandel Ngan / AFP - Getty Images
US President Barack Obama speaks on jobs for veterans February 3, 2012 at Fire Station #5 in Arlington, Virginia.
*** Russia’s back as rival: One other thing exposed this weekend during the debate at the U.N. regarding Syria: Russia as a rival is back. The Russians have been VERY vocal about saying they wish they could have had their Libya-U.N. vote back. Just asking, but the Russians being more aggressive in opposing the U.S. (and most of the world) on this issue a signal Putin’s back to believing less in a more cooperative relationship with the U.S. on foreign policy issues in general?
*** Romney’s rough week: Paradoxically, the past week for Romney -- which has included two of his three victories, in Florida and Nevada -- might have been his roughest yet a presidential candidate and exposed some serious weaknesses as a general-election candidate. For starters, there was his “I’m not concerned about the very poor” comment, which only furthered the narrative that this uber-wealthy pol isn’t in touch with the problems of average Americans. Then there was him getting Donald Trump’s endorsement, which not only was unfortunate timing after his “poor” comment, but which also linked him to America’s most famous “birther.” And then came Friday’s jobs report, which -- at least for the time being -- undermined the rationale behind his entire candidacy. (What role is there for a turnaround artist if something is already turning around?) The good news for Romney: It’s a new week, February is set up very well for him, and we have a LONG way to go…
*** Obama leads Romney by six points, per new poll: But the new Washington Post/ABC poll is a clear indication of how rough last week was to Romney. According to the poll, conducted from Wednesday to Saturday, Obama has opened up a six-point lead over Romney among registered voters, 51%-45%, and Obama’s overall approval rating now stands at 50%. What’s more, 52% say Obama better understands the economic problems people are having, while 37% say Romney does. And respondents are split on Romney’s wealth, with 44% seeing it negatively and 43% viewing it positively. But there are still danger signs for Obama in this poll: Romney has leads over the president when it comes to handling the economy and budget deficit; nearly 90% rate the economy negatively; and just 33% believe the economy is a good reason to back Obama’s candidacy for re-election.
*** On contraception and the Catholic vote: Despite the relative good news for Obama over the past few weeks -- on the economy and on the divisive GOP race -- critics have seized upon the administration’s decision mandating that Catholic universities and hospitals must eventually offer contraception prescriptions to those who want it. That decision has angered the Catholic bishops and has produced speculation that it could produce a backlash among Catholic voters. But consider this: If Catholic voters are going to be fired up about this, then shouldn’t they have been voting more Republican over the past 20 years, when we’ve seen tons of OTHER highly charged political debates over abortion, stem-cell research, and euthanasia? There have been many predictions that those issues would push Catholics monolithically toward the GOP, but they haven’t. As it’s turned out, there’s a big difference between culturally conservative Catholics -- those who abide by all Catholic teachings, even those against contraception -- and those who aren’t as culturally conservative. Think of the divide as active/church going Catholics vs. less active members of the church.
*** On those Super Bowl car ads: Whatever you want to think about the Clint Eastwood car ad -- “It’s Halftime, America” -- and all of the other car ads during last night’s Super Bowl, they only seemed to reinforce the message the Obama campaign wants to make this fall: The U.S. automotive industry is back, and that’s a big success for the country. Could the Big Three ad campaigns be a subliminal Super PAC supporter of the president?
*** Gingrich’s strategy to stay in the race: Over the weekend, the Washington Post mapped out Gingrich’s strategy to stay in the GOP presidential race. “He will focus heavily on upcoming contests in Southern states, where he expects his Georgia roots and conservative rhetoric to play well. And he will step up his attacks on his leading rival, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, for being too liberal to take on President Obama in the fall.”
*** Paul’s disappointing third-place finish in Nevada: Just askin’, but if Ron Paul’s campaign team was supposed to have such a good organization and if it was trying to make inroads in all of the caucus contests, then wasn’t his third-place finish in Nevada pretty disappointing? Gingrich, who doesn’t have too much of an organization and who didn’t campaign as aggressively in Nevada, finished second there.
*** And the disappointing GOP turnout: By the way, just slightly under 33,000 participated in the Nevada GOP caucuses – which was down from the 44,000 who participated four years ago. In fact, it’s the second-consecutive contest where turnout was down from ’08. Here are the numbers:
*** On the 2012 trail: Santorum stumps in Minnesota and then heads to Colorado… Romney holds two rallies in Colorado, in Grand Junction and Centennial… Paul, in Minnesota, campaigns in St. Cloud and Minneapolis… And Gingrich campaigns in both Colorado and Minnesota.
Countdown to Super Tuesday: 29 days Countdown to Election Day: 274 days
Updated at 10:58a.m. ET: Mitt Romney's remark that he's not worried about the very poor, the latest gaffe in a campaign rich with blunders, joins a long list of wait-let-me-explain episodes in presidential election history.
It's been a banner year for campaign misfires: Rick Perry had his "oops" moment when he forgot one of the three government departments he wanted to eliminate. Herman Cain only made things worse after he fumbled a question about Libya by explaining he had "all this stuff twirling around in my head." Michele Bachmann launched her campaign with a cringe-worthy misfire, declaring that both she and actor John Wayne had lived in Waterloo, Iowa, when it was actually serial killer John Wayne Gacy Jr. who'd lived there.
Will any of those sour notes still be ringing in the ears beyond November's ballots and confetti?
There's stiff competition in the pantheon of campaign misfires: Think of Howard Dean's primal scream in Iowa during the 2004 primary. Vice President Al Gore's overwrought sighs when debating George W. Bush in 2000. Vice President Dan Quayle's botched spelling of potato in 1992. And, way back at the dawn of televised presidential debates, Richard Nixon's profuse sweating on stage with cool-as-a-cucumber rival John Kennedy in 1960.
Some others with proven staying power:
THE OTHER ROMNEY. Mitt Romney knows only too well how devastating a single gaffe can be. Forty-five years ago, his father, George Romney, ended his presidential campaign after negative fallout from his answer to a question about why he he'd once supported the Vietnam War. In a 1967 TV interview, Romney referred back to his 1965 visit to the country and stated, "When I came back from Viet Nam, I'd just had the greatest brainwashing that anybody can get." He said he'd since done a lot more study of the matter and no longer believed the war was necessary.
Romney's poll numbers sank amid a swirl of ridicule and questions about whether he was naive. "Can't you just see him coming back from a conference with (Soviet official Alexei) Kosygin yelling that he had been brainwashed by a Russian?" Democratic Party Chairman John Bailey asked. Romney's wife, Lenore, allowed that her husband's words were "extremely unfortunate" and insisted that he was too strong a man to be brainwashed. But the damage had been done.
DEBATE DOMINATION. President Gerald Ford didn't dominate when he falsely declared in a 1976 debate that "there is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe," including Poland. Time magazine called it "the blooper heard round the world." Democrat Jimmy Carter, Ford's rival, said the president had "disgraced our country." Ford only made things worse by refusing for days to retract the statement and offering clarifications that didn't really clarify things.
At one bizarre campaign appearance, the president spoke to reporters on a press bus via walkie-talkie and referred to himself in the third person, saying: "President Ford does not believe that the Polish people over the long run — whether they are in Poland or whether they are Polish-Americans here — will ever condone domination by a foreign force." The incident is recounted in Alan Schroeder's book about presidential debates, "Forty Years of High-Risk TV." Ford eventually apologized and said he recognized that the Soviets did dominate Poland and had military divisions stationed there.
CARTER CONSULTS. In the 1980 campaign, it was Carter who fumbled a Cold War question during a presidential debate when he cited his 13-year-old daughter, Amy, on the subject of nuclear war. "I had a discussion with my daughter, Amy, the other day, before I came here, to ask her what the most important issue was," Carter said. "She said she thought nuclear weaponry — and the control of nuclear arms. This is a formidable force." The debate audience snickered. Carter's rival, Republican Ronald Reagan, served up a perfect rejoinder at a campaign rally, telling the crowd: "I remember when Patty and Ron were little kids, we used to talk about nuclear power," Schroeder recounted. Carter allowed in his memoir that "It was obvious that I had not expressed myself well."
DUKAKIS' TWO-FER: Michael Dukakis' run against President George H.W. Bush in 1988 yielded two lulus. His emotionally detached answer to a debate question about whether he would favor the death penalty if his wife, Kitty, were raped and murdered was a classic case of being too cool under pressure. "I think you know that I've opposed the death penalty during all of my life," he calmly replied. "I don't see any evidence that it's a deterrent, and I think there are better and more effective ways to deal with violent crime." Kitty Dukakis later wrote in her memoir, "That chilling incident at the second debate was the nail in the coffin. ... Michael made a mistake; he answered a question he should have hurled right back into the face of his questioner."
And then there was that unfortunate photo of a helmeted Dukakis taking a spin in a tank — the ultimate in What Not To Wear for candidates.
TIME OUT: The most telling moment in a three-way debate between Bush, Bill Clinton and Ross Perot in 1992, wasn't conveyed in words. It was Bush's glance at his watch. The president already was battling perceptions that he was out of touch and out of ideas in a time of economic distress. When the TV cameras caught him stealing a glance at his watch, it reinforced the impression that Bush wasn't up for the job. It didn't help, either, that when a young woman asked Bush how the national debt had affected him personally, he said he didn't really get the question.
MR. MISUNDERESTIMATED. George W. Bush served up enough malapropisms as candidate and president that it's hard to single out just one. But voters elected him twice, validating his theory that people "misunderestimated" him. That gave people eight years of mangled language and puzzling Bushisms to ponder. Among them: "I know the human being and fish can coexist peacefully." "Rarely is the question asked, is our children learning?" and "We look forward to hearing your vision, so we can more better do our job."
THE LITTLE PEOPLE: Condescension is one of the worst traps for a presidential candidate and Barack Obama stepped squarely into it in April 2008. Speaking to well-heeled donors at a private fundraiser in the liberal bastion of San Francisco, no less, Obama said voters in struggling small towns of Pennsylvania and the Midwest "get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."
When news of his comment leaked out, Obama got a boatload of grief from Hillary Rodham Clinton, his rival for the Democratic nomination, as well as presumptive Republican nominee John McCain. "Elitist and out of touch," snapped Clinton, whose supporters handed out "I'm not bitter" stickers. Much like Romney now, Obama defended the thought he was trying to convey before conceding he had chosen his words poorly.
It wasn't the first time the political sin of talking down to people had created problems for Obama's campaign. Earlier, he'd told Clinton during a debate, "You're likable enough, Hillary." And Michelle Obama set off her own tempest by declaring that the public's hunger for change powering her husband's presidential bid made her proud of her country "for the first time."
Republican presidential candidate former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, left, talks with Natasha Trett, an employee at the Bemidji, Minn., Woolen Mills store, the manufacturer of the official Santorum for president sweater vest, during a campaign stop on Feb. 5, 2012.
Charles Rex Arbogast / AP
Republican presidential candidate former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, center, looks at a display of his official, Santorum for president sweater vest, at the Bemidji Wollen Mills store, with owner Bill Batchhelder, right, during a campaign stop at the vest manufacturer Sunday, Feb. 5, 2012, in Bemidji, Minn.
By Natalia Jimenez, NBC News
Rick Santorum's sweater vests have been a regular figure in the news ever since the Iowa caucus. The sweater vest took on a life of its own with its own Twitter account and Pinterest board. Santorum has fully embraced the sartorial attention, adopting the slogan "don't let sleeves slow you down." He began offering the sweater vests to those who donate $100 or more to his campaign, and today visited the factory in Bemidji, Minn. where they are made.
Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich holds a press conference following the Nevada caucuses.
By NBC News, msnbc.com staff and news services
Newt Gingrich said Saturday night that he's staying in the Republican presidential nominating contest.
In a news conference in Las Vegas as results of the Nevada GOP caucus showed Mitt Romney the projected winner, Gingrich said he was still a candidate and would remain one through to the party's nominating convention in Florida this summer.
"I am a candidate for president of the United States. I will be a candidate for president of the United States," Gingrich said. "We will go to Tampa."
He accused the Romney campaign of sowing rumors that he would drop out, and accused his rival of being dishonest at the most recent GOP debate.
About reports that one of his chief financial backers, billionaire Sheldon Adelson, had met with Romney, Gingrich said that he understood that Adelson had said previously that he would support Romney if Gingrich dropped out. If the choice was between Obama and Romney, Gingrich said, then Romney was the obvious choice.
He described Romney as a Massachusetts moderate, and cast himself as a conservative, and said the differences between the two will become "wider and wider and clearer and clearer" over the next few weeks.
The former House speaker is struggling to forge a comeback after big back-to-back losses to Romney in Nevada and Florida's primary four days earlier.
Gingrich waged a limited campaign in Nevada, with just a handful of events and no TV ads.
He needs to forge a breakthrough as the race turns to a string of states friendly to Romney, including Colorado and Minnesota on Tuesday and Michigan, where Romney grew up, on Feb. 28.
The Gingrich strategy hinges on Super Tuesday on March 6, when the campaign will sweep South again through states that look good for him. Gingrich — who is own chief strategist — and aides have been hunkered down mapping out strategy. Ohio will figure prominently in the mix. He'll head to the Super Tuesday state on Tuesday, bypassing other states that have contests sooner.
This article includes reporting by NBC News' Alex Moe, msnbc.com staff and The Associated Press.