House Speaker John Boehner Gets Official Snub By CPAC

House Speaker John A. Boehner, who has tangled repeatedly with the right wing of the Republican Party, has not been invited to this week’s Conservative Political Action Conference, a major snub at the annual gathering and a sign of the top Republican officeholder’s struggle to find common ground with grass-roots activists.

People familiar with CPAC’s planning, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity, said the American Conservative Union, which hosts the event, never sent an invitation to Mr. Boehner, in part because it wanted the focus this year to be on leading conservative thinkers at the grass-roots level and not at the congressional or party leadership level.

“We wanted this to be about conservatives, not party leaders in Washington,” one source said.

Mr. Boehner, Ohio Republican, used to be a regular at CPAC, but the three-day gathering that begins Thursday will mark the second in a row that he has missed after passing up an invitation last year. The speaker has grown increasingly vocal in recent months about his frustration with tea party members of the House Republican caucus who have broken with leadership on key votes.

The antipathy is mutual.

“There are not enough curse words in the English language to describe how movement conservatives think of John Boehner,” said Ford O'Connell, a party strategist. “They see him as only slightly better than President Obama.

“But, I think, John Boehner is wise not to attend CPAC because he does not want to become a distraction, and fodder for the news media, by highlighting the rift between establishment conservatives and the movement conservatives,” Mr. O'Connell said. “Movement conservatives are right to question Boehner’s moves, but what they can’t question is his heart in terms of him wanting to maximize electoral returns in the 2014 midterms.”

The speakers lineup at the annual gathering is always a good test for who’s in and who’s out with conservative leaders.

Read more from Seth McLaughlin at The Washington Times 

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John Kerry's Legacy On The Line

Russia’s brash Ukrainian incursion has put U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry squarely on the hot seat, and experts predict his response to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s actions, starting with a trip to Kiev tomorrow, gives him a chance to repair shaken confidence in America’s influence and define his own legacy — but could put him at odds with President Obama.

“When he tries to get tough, Obama will cut his legs out from under him, as he did in Syria,” said Victor Davis Hanson, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. “Kerry doesn’t want to be embarrassed again like he was in Syria. And if he gives any ultimatums, he knows Obama will back off.”

Kerry will meet tomorrow with Ukraine’s new government, installed after protesters ousted the purportedly corrupt leadership. Making the rounds of network shows yesterday, he called Putin’s pretext for invading Crimea — that Russian citizens and assets were in danger — “completely trumped up” and “really 19th-century behavior in the 21st century.”

“President Putin is not operating from a place of strength here,” Kerry told NBC’s “Meet the Press” when asked whether Putin was emboldened by U.S. inaction in Syria. “He’s going to lose all of the glow that came out of the Olympics, his $60 billion extravaganza. He is not going to have a Sochi G-8. He may not even remain in the G-8 if this continues. He may find himself with asset freezes on Russian business. American business may pull back. There may be a further tumble of the ruble.”

A Gallup poll last week found 53 percent of Americans think Obama is not respected by other world leaders.

Ford O’Connell, a GOP political strategist who worked on John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, predicted both parties would line up behind Kerry if he finds a way to pressure Putin without escalating the situation.

“The world is watching, and this administration has consistently underestimated Putin,” O’Connell said. “This will be the biggest test of Kerry’s tenure as secretary of state, and how he handles this could ultimately define his legacy.”

Read more from Jack Encarnacao at The Boston Herald

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Hillary Clinton Promises To Fix Obamacare

Before Obamacare, there was Hillarycare. If former secretary of state Hillary Clinton decides to run for president in 2016, Republicans are certain to dredge up her failed attempt to pass health care reform as first lady in the early 1990s.

So it's no surprise that Clinton addressed the issue judiciously and cautiously this week in Florida. She praised the law, which is similar to the universal health care scheme she proposed in her 2008 presidential run. She also said she would be happy to improve it.

"I think we are on the right track in many respects," Clinton told the Health Care Information and Management Systems Society, according to CNN. “But I would be the first to say if things aren’t working then we need people of good faith to come together and make evidence-based changes."

Clinton's comments come as every Democratic politician struggles to neutralize the issue ahead of November's midterm elections. The law was always unpopular, but the botched rollout made matters far worse and Republicans are on the offense in the belief that attacking the law is a vote winner.

Strategists say that rather than entering the debate about what to do with such an electoral liability, Clinton's comments were a smart way to duck a tough issue. 

"Hillary Clinton cannot run from the principle of Obamacare. But she does want to portray herself as a no-nonsense problem solver," said Republican Ford O'Connell, who advised Senator John McCain's presidential run in 2008. "She's aiming for the middle ground."

"This is a classic cat-and-mouse game," said O'Connell, noting that besides the small business comment, Clinton demurred when asked to name other fixes. "She's staked out her position. The Republicans have to flesh it out before she really gains some serious momentum."

Read more from Pema Levy at Newsweek 

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News Analysis: U.S. Voters Want Solutions From Republicans, Not Jargon

Polls show U.S. Republicans have climbed out of the hole, but experts said the party must turn words into action if it does not want to fall back in.

A Gallup poll released Wednesday found that Republican House Speaker John Boehner's numbers are back where they were before his party took a hit for engineering last fall's partial government shutdown.

But to keep the momentum going, Republicans must shake the image of a party with many criticisms but few solutions, and must make solid proposals, analysts and observers said.

That is particularly the case with President Barack Obama's healthcare overhaul, commonly known as Obamacare, which the Republican Party (GOP) has slammed, blasted and castigated for failing to provide a viable alternative to what they say are major gaps left by the reforms.

Republican Strategist Ford O'Connell said that while "low information" voters turn out for presidential elections, midterm voters are more aware of the issues, and want to see a realistic healthcare plan.

The GOP is expected to have an advantage in the Congressional elections due in November, as blacks, Hispanics and youth and single women -- Democrats' base -- tend to be absent from such elections.

"What the American public wants to hear from Republicans heading into the 2014 election cycle is ... 'if we put you back into a position to govern, do you have ideas and plans that you can put forward from day one to show us that you're ready to govern,'" O'Connell told Xinhua.

Read more Matthew Rusling at ShanghaiDaily.com

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Strange Bedfellows? Christie And Romney To Fundraise Together

Call them the Republican odd couple.

Embattled New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is scheduled to fundraise with failed 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on behalf of the Republican Governors Association Thursday in Boston.

The tables have certainly turned in the past year or so. After Romney lost in 2012, he was seen as an outcast of the Republican Party and stayed largely out of the public eye for months. 

Christie, while still a target of resentment among some Republicans over his embrace – literally and figuratively – of President Obama in the days leading up to the election, was mostly still seen as a rising GOP star. The governor’s approval ratings soared following his response to Hurricane Sandy, and his reputation as a politician willing to put partisanship and political games aside gained traction in his blue state. He was easily catapulted to a second term the following year and the 2016 drumbeat continued on. Fast forward to today, and Christie is waist deep in allegations that his office abused its power. His popularity has taken a big hit, both in the Garden State and nationally.

Meanwhile, Romney is edging back into public life. He frequently weighed in on security concerns around the Sochi Olympic Games. And last month, he showed up to the Sundance Film Festival premiere of “Mitt,” a documentary that tracks his two failed runs for the Oval Office. 

Republican strategist Ford O’Connell said the Christie-Romney pairing makes perfect sense. “Mitt Romney wants to have a say in the future direction of the party…and he’s the gateway to Massachusetts in terms of Republican fundraising.” Meanwhile, O’Connell said it indicates that members of the RGA and GOP establishment trust Christie, who has been bringing in record hauls for the RGA, despite the so-called “Bridgegate” scandal.

Read more from Aliyah Frumin at MSNBC.com 

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Gay Rights: Republicans' Last Hot-Button Issue?

Blame immigration, a prominent Republican strategist tells the BBC.

Changing US demographics - particularly a growing Hispanic voting bloc that traditionally trended Democrat - have forced the conservative party to step back from immigration and what was once an easy political target.

Party leaders have recently put on hold talks of immigration reform until after November's mid-term elections, citing distrust of US President Barack Obama.

But many have called it a maneuver to, if not appeal to Hispanic voters, not ostracise them as Republicans eye the 2016 presidential election.

In Arizona, Republican lawmakers are facing a population that is currently 30% Hispanic, well above the 16.9% US average.

In 2012, the party lost ground in both chambers, shedding seats in the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Given the growing Hispanic birth rate, Republicans are seen as in real danger of losing control in the state.

"If they don't find a way over the next several years to bring the Hispanics into the fold, the Republicans are going to become the minority party," Republican strategist Ford O'Connell says.

Losing a majority at the state level may not seem like the worst thing in the world.

But only the political party in control of the state legislature decennially, next in 2020, gets the ultimate prize: redistricting rights.

Redistricting can reshape the state and national landscape for a political party - and perhaps more importantly, the opposing party - for years to follow.

And right now, Republicans are losing ground, forcing them to throw political "red meat" to invigorate their conservative base, O'Connell says.

So, if immigration is shelved and anti-gay legislation is proving to be a live grenade, what issues are left for the conservative party to campaign on?

"Jobs, college affordability, tax reform, energy and transportation," O'Connell says.

The drawback: None of those are considered "sexy" hot-button topics that will energise supporters and bring new members into the fold.

"What it means at the end of the day is Republicans are going to have to reassess over time exactly how they expand the tent and what are the best policies overall to make sure they win [key] states" like Arizona, O'Connell says.

Read more from Deborah Siegelbaum at BBC News 

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News Analysis: Demographics Seem To Favor Republicans In 2014 Elections

Despite all reasons to relax, there's one thing that could cause U.S. Democrats to stumble in the 2014 mid-term Congressional elections: demographics.

Indeed, blacks, Hispanics, youth and single women -- Democrats' base -- tend to be absent from Congressional elections, while older, more conservative voters -- Republicans' traditional supporters -- would in all likelihood go out for voting this November.

The trend bodes ill for Democrats, but the party has a few tricks up its sleeve, and is now making serious efforts to get single women out to vote them. That has worked in the past in states like Virginia, where unmarried women's support of Terry McAuliffe led to his victory in the governor elections, experts said.

Democrats are also going to try to boost the turnout of blacks, Hispanics and young voters in the midterms, Republican Strategist Ford O'Connell told Xinhua.

"They want to generate enthusiasm, make the midterms sexy for these voters," O'Connell said.

"Democrats will use the war on women as a focal point, as well as the minimum wage hike to rally voters," he said, referring to the party's push for an increased minimum wage.

Read more from Matthew Rusling at ShanghaiDaily.com

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Slamming Obamacare Isn't Enough

There are five minutes left in the game. Your team leads by less than a touchdown. Do you get conservative, go with handoffs into the line and hope your defense can come through? Or do you take a few risks and try to run out the clock without ever giving the other team the ball back?

Nine months from Election Day 2014, that’s basically the question Republicans are facing. They have a lead, so to speak. And they have to figure out how to close out the victory without making mistakes that give away the game.

They could run the ball into the line – keep the heat on Obamacare, make Democrats defend their votes and the program’s multiple simultaneous calamities. Or they could try to take a few chances, work to move some legislation that addresses concerns the American people have and show they would be ready to govern with fresh ideas from Day One.

It’s not an easy question. The all-slam-Obamacare-all-the-time strategy is working, up to a point. President Obama’s poll numbers are at all-time lows. Candidates are shunning him on the campaign trail and trying to distance themselves from his signature legislation. Democrats have all but given up on retaking the majority in the House of Representatives and are concentrating their resources on defending five vulnerable incumbents in the Senate and holding the open seats in Iowa and Michigan. Plus, as Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., an ally of Speaker John Boehner, said the other day, “In the House, we’ve got 30 guys who don’t want to support anything, ever, unless it balances the budget next year.”

But there is reason to believe Republicans are not yet in position to run out the clock – or, more accurately, that they stand to forego the chance to take over the Senate if they don’t come up with something besides flogging Obamacare between now and November.

Read more from Ford O'Connell at U.S. News & World Report

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Republicans Take Debt Ceiling To The Limit

The White House may have gotten a clean debt ceiling increase this time, but things likely won't be as easy next time around.

Republican leaders' decision to allow a clean bill stemmed from the political calculation that it was better to keep the public's focus on ObamaCare's struggles as the midterms approach, say GOP strategists.

That factor won't be there when the debt ceiling will next need to be increased at some point in 2015. If Republicans gain Senate seats, as expected, that simple math will make it even harder.

Democrats and a number of pundits framed the vote as the potential end to the era of Republicans demanding concessions in exchange for a debt ceiling hike. But it seems unlikely the same process will happen next time.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) broke with the majority of their party and voted to allow an increase to the debt ceiling without any attached spending cuts. In the Senate, McConnell voted against the bill itself but supported a procedural motion that allowed it to pass with a 50-vote threshold.

Their calculus is simple: With Republicans likely to pick up Senate seats and fairly good odds of winning control of the upper chamber, they will be in a stronger position to negotiate with President Obama. They'll also be under more pressure from the GOP base not to capitulate — even if they fall short of recapturing the Senate.

"You got the one pass. But if you do take control or come close, saying 'okay, after the next election' isn't going to fly with the base. The base is tired of hearing 'next election,'" said GOP strategist Ford O'Connell. "The base is only going to stay patient for so long."

Read more from Cameron Joesph at The Hill

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Anti-Gun Forces Shift To ‘Small-Ball’ Efforts

Democrats in Congress, following the lead of President Obama, are now playing small ball on gun control after their post-Newtown hopes of significant legislation were dashed.

Capitol Hill Democrats are now focusing on modest moves, such as funding gun-violence prevention and calling for “smart guns” that only authorized users can operate.

For their part, prominent gun-control groups are looking outside Washington and toward the private sector, where they hope to pressure companies to disassociate themselves from guns and gun transactions.

On Capitol Hill, the action is chiefly on the funding side.

Last month’s spending bill to fund government operations in 2014 contained $8.5 million for programs to reduce gun crimes and gang violence, $58.5 million for grants to states to get them to turn over more records to the federal background check system — an increase of $40 million over fiscal 2013 levels — and $128 million for the FBI to operate the background checks.

A year ago at this time, the Senate was gearing up for a big debate over major gun-control legislation, including a ban on high-powered, semiautomatic rifles and high-capacity ammunition magazines, as well as requiring background checks for all gun purchases.

Those plans, however, collapsed in April, when they fell victim to a GOP-led filibuster.

The flurry of gun-control bills after the Dec. 2012 shooting spree at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., has shrunk to a trickle, with lawmakers now settling for non-binding resolutions condemning gun violence.

“Instead of shooting for the moon, they said, ‘Maybe if we small-ball things we can get going,’” Republican strategist Ford O’Connell said of the most recent efforts, while adding that gun-rights groups such as the NRA would be following even “small ball” items quite closely.

Read more from David Sherfinski at The Washington Times

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