Democrats, GOP Grapple With Internal Divisions

BY Christina Bellantoni and Terence Burlij  March 15, 2013 at 9:08 AM EST

Political campaign buttons and memorabilia at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference at the National Harbor. Photo By Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call.

The Morning Line

Republicans and Democrats end a week focused on bipartisanship with signs they are far from united within their own parties.

At the Conservative Political Action Conference, fissures within the Republican Party were on display as rising stars Marco Rubio and Rand Paul offered competing takes on the future of the GOP.

And President Barack Obama’s meetings on Capitol Hill were perhaps more testy when he addressed fellow Democrats, who pressed him on his administration’s priorities and their own views of his actions.

At a session with House Democrats Thursday, Mr. Obama was peppered with questions from Democrats fretting he would slash entitlement programs under pressure to cut a deal with Republicans, but sought to reassure them he wouldn’t budge unless the other party gave in on revenue through tax increases. Democrats told reporters at The Hill that the president asked them to give him some room to negotiate.

Politico’s Jonathan Allen reports that the close of Thursday’s meeting grew uncomfortable when Rep. Henry Waxman went past the designated time for questioning and gave a long statement about climate change. The Californian refused to take the question to the president in private, and later told Allen he felt the issue was “not being discussed adequately.”

Some Senate Democrats reportedly were not pleased that the president would not give them more information on his program of drone strikes during their private meeting earlier in the week.

The White House focused on the president’s sessions with Republicans. An administration official told reporters that Mr. Obama and GOP Senators on Thursday “had a constructive, substantive conversation on a number of issues,” and stressed that the president “wants to continue to work together with willing members of the Conference on the number of pressing issues facing our nation and looks forward to continuing this dialogue in the weeks ahead.”

Meanwhile, four months after failing in their goal to take back control of the White House from the president, 8,000 conservative activists gathered for CPAC just outside Washington to discuss ways to retool their brand and reshape their message going forward.

Thursday’s opening sessions illustrated they are not all on the same page.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said it was “a foolish notion” to talk about infighting among conservatives. “People who disagree on all sorts of things in the real world work together all the time on things they do agree on. And there has to be a home, a movement in America for people who believe in limited government, constitutional principles and a free enterprise system, and that should be us,” Rubio said.

The Florida senator targeted his remarks toward bread and butter economic issues like student loan debt and the impact of globalization. In an ever-changing world, Rubio told the crowd one thing has remained constant.

“Our people have not changed,” Rubio said. “The vast majority of the American people are hard-working taxpayers who take responsibility for their families, go to work every day, they pay their mortgage on time, they volunteer in their community. This is where the vast majority of the American people are,” he added, drawing sharp contrast with the “47 percent” comments made by GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney last year.

Rubio also sought to preempt critics who would would say his speech didn’t offer anything fresh. “We don’t need a new idea. The idea is called America, and it still works,” Rubio said.

But change was exactly what Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said the Republican party needed to embrace in order to “become the dominant national party again.”

The tea party favorite added: “The GOP of old has grown stale and moss-covered. I don’t think we need to name any names here, do we?” That remark appeared to be a dig at Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who last week referred to Paul and his allies as “wacko birds.”

Paul talked about how “the Facebook generation” could sense “falseness and hypocrisy a mile away,” which he said meant if conservatives wanted to connect with younger voters they needed to “jealously guard all of our liberties.”

“Our party is encumbered by an inconsistent approach to freedom. The new GOP, the GOP that will win again, will need to embrace liberty in both the economic and personal sphere,” Paul said.

Paul also demonstrated his organizational strength outside the main ballroom with supporters giving away free “Stand With Rand” t-shirts, signs and stickers to highlight the senator’s recent 13-hour filibuster over the Obama administration’s drone policy.

Gov. Rick Perry, R-Texas, meanwhile, dismissed talk that the conservative movement was on the decline, putting the blame squarely on the Republican Party’s past two presidential nominees: McCain and Romney.

“The popular media narrative is that this country has shifted away from conservative ideals, as evidenced by the last two presidential elections. That’s what they say,” Perry said. “That might be true if Republicans had actually nominated conservative candidates in 2008 and 2012.”

But Perry, who was pilloried during the GOP presidential primary last year for having a more moderate stance on immigration reform than other candidates, also took some heat from the CPAC crowd when he called for the party to improve its outreach to Latinos.

NewsHour Congressional correspondent Kwame Holman will report on CPAC Friday night leading into our analysis segment with Mark Shields and David Brooks. Tune in. We’ll also be livestreaming Friday. Watch the big speeches here or below:

LINE ITEMS

  • A federal grand jury in Miami is probing whether Sen. Bob Menendez improperly aided a friend’s business interests, the Washington Post reports. The New Jersey Democrat already has said he “interceded with federal health-care officials” after they said that Salomon Melgen had overbilled the U.S. government for care at his ophthalmologist clinic. Also at question is whether Menendez “pressured the Dominican government to honor a contract with Melgen’s port-security company, documents and interviews show.”
  • Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, announced Thursday that he had reversed his opposition to same-sex marriage after his son told him he was gay. “It allowed me to think of this issue from a new perspective, and that’s of a Dad who loves his son a lot and wants him to have the same opportunities that his brother and sister would have,” Portman said in an interview with Ohio reporters.
  • The assault weapons ban proposal passed the Senate Judiciary Committee 10-8 after several heated exchanges between Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Ted Cruz, R-Texas. It is unlikely to pass the full Senate. The president urged lawmakers to put all the gun measures to a floor vote. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he would work with Judiciary Chairman Pat Leahy to “find out now what has been reported out of the committee and what we need to put together as a base bill to start legislating on the Senate floor. And that’s what we’ll do.”
  • Mr. Obama on Friday will release a new plan on clean energy.
  • House Speaker Boehner declined an invitation from the White House to join Vice President Joe Biden’s delegation to Vatican City for Pope Francis’ investiture, saying his schedule for next week’s budget debate and other House duties made it impossible.
  • National Journal’s Beth Reinhard notes that Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli tacked to the center during his speech to CPAC Thursday.
  • Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is headlining a fundraising dinner in Iowa this spring.
  • Mr. Obama to an Israeli TV station: “Sometimes I have this fantasy that I can put on a disguise and, you know, wear a fake mustache. I could wander through Tel Aviv and go to a bar and have a conversation … I’d love to sit at a cafe and just hang out.” The president travels to Israel and the Palestinian-controlled West Bank next week. NewsHour’s Margaret Warner will be along on the trip.
  • Politico previews Sarah Palin’s anticipated CPAC appearance, asking if she has a “second act” on the national stage.
  • For Sunshine Week, the Washington Post examines the Obama administration’s record on transparency, finding it mixed.
  • Roll Call’s Eliza Newlin Carney explores the funding mechanism behind CPAC.
  • And Heard on the Hill’s Neda Semnani finds Grindr users abound at CPAC.
  • A gay conservative is considering a bid to primary Sen. Lindsey Graham in South Carolina, Chris Geidner reports for BuzzFeed.
  • What a difference eight years makes.
  • It’s slim pickins for vegetarians on Capitol Hill.
  • Biden has launched Being Biden, an audio series in which he describes what’s going on behind the scenes of a photograph. In his first post, Biden gives some background on photo of taken while serving meals at a “wild game dinner” in his home state of Delaware earlier this month. The series takes advantage of Sound Cloud, an online service that allows users to share music and audio online.
  • Steve Goldbloom gets to the bottom of that whole music festival thing in the final edition of PBS’ SXSW Diaries. Don’t miss the horse cameo.
  • We’re disappointed to hear Mr. Obama didn’t get to try the delicious-sounding Maine lobster and blueberry pie on the menu at the Senate Republicans’ luncheon.
  • Today’s tidbit from NewsHour partner Face the Facts USA looks at Pentagon spending. Did you know the Department of Defense funds pension plans for private contractors?

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Cassie M. Chew contributed to this report.

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Questions or comments? Email Christina Bellantoni at cbellantoni-at-newshour-dot-org.

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