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100 days out from Election Day

BY Domenico Montanaro, Terence Burlij, Rachel Wellford and Simone Pathe  July 28, 2014 at 9:06 AM EST
An Alabama man urged voters to get to the polls during the 2012 presidential election in Birmingham. Turnout for the 2014 midterms is expected to be extremely low. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

An Alabama man urged voters to get to the polls during the 2012 presidential election in Birmingham. Turnout for the 2014 midterms is expected to be extremely low. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

Today in the Morning Line:

  • There are 100 days until Election Day
  • Campaign seasons without end and without beginning
  • Deal reached on VA reform – Congress’ sprint to summer recess
  • What’s all this impeachment talk about?
  • What did Hillary Clinton say about Darth Vader (and Russia)?

The Morning Line

100 days until Election Day: It is 100 days until Election Day (well, 99, but who’s counting). There are going to be 15 primaries in August, but the general-election fields in the dozen competitive Senate races are pretty much set. The only one that could affect Senate control with a competitive primary remaining is Alaska (Aug. 19) on the Republican side. That could help Democrat Mark Begich, but there will be a lot of activity post-Labor Day when most will start paying attention to what is expected to be a close race. The next 35 days until Labor Day will also be something of a summer proving ground for several Democrats, including Begich and Arkansas’ Mark Pryor, who are trying to hold off GOP challenges in red states, as well as Michelle Nunn in Georgia and Alison Lundergan Grimes in Kentucky — both of whom appear tied or within striking distance of flipping Republican seats. Will that last or will Republicans put separation between themselves and the Democrats with the glut of ads that are coming? If those Democrats are still faring as well as they are now by Labor Day (Sept. 1), they could have a viable chance at holding the Senate narrowly. But if not, it could be a wave. It will also be a proving ground for Republicans wanting to expand the playing field. Does Joni Ernst in Iowa keep Democrat Bruce Braley on his heels? Does Terri Lynn Land prove to be the real deal in Michigan?

So where do things stand? Republicans have done everything they need to so far — with a few exceptions — to put themselves in as good a position as possible for this fall. They are already favored to be halfway to their goal of netting six seats — with West Virginia, South Dakota, and the plagiarism scandal in Montana. And they have beaten back potentially problematic tea party candidates. The New York Times’ Upshot model, in fact, now gives Republicans now a 60 percent chance of taking control of the Senate, up from 54 percent back in April. Of course, it’s not a done deal (for reasons stated above). By the way, if you think you’re seeing even more political ads than you used to, you’re right. They are up 70 percent since 2010 and spending is on pace to surpass $2 billion in this midterm election, the New York Times reports. Driven by increased outside spending, already more than 300,000 Senate ads have run, up from just over 200,000 in 2012 and about 175,000 at this point in 2010. It looks like we’re entering a period in American politics of never-ending political seasons that could have the effect of causing “voters to tune out before Election Day,” as the Times writes. There is already evidence of that with turnout and interest in this election at lows.

Deal reached on VA reform: Lawmakers appear poised to cross at least one item off their to-do list before leaving in four days for their five-week August recess. The chairs of the Senate and House Veterans’ Affairs Committees, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., are expected to unveil their VA reform deal at a Capitol Hill news conference Monday. The Washington Post’s Ed O’Keefe reports, “One House aide, not authorized to speak publicly about the talks, said that the final agreement more closely mirrors a Senate measure overwhelmingly approved by Democrats and Republicans last month.” That measure, which was approved on a 93-3 vote, provided additional funding to hire more doctors and nurses, and called for the Department of Veterans Affairs to lease 27 new medical facilities. The agreement reportedly will give veterans flexibility to seek care from private doctors if the wait for an appointment at a VA facility is more than the current wait-time goal of 14 days.

Border battle: Another top priority for lawmakers this week is working out a solution to address the influx of migrants from Central America that have come across the southern border in recent months. But with time running short, the two parties remain split on key provisions. House Republicans continue to insist on making changes to a 2008 human trafficking law that requires unaccompanied children from Central America receive a court hearing before being deported. There’s also the issue of money, with the president asking for $3.7 billion, Senate Democrats calling for $2.7 billion and House Republicans now aiming for less than $1 billion. By the way, the New York Times reports that most of the migrant children who have come to the United States have been released to sponsors or relatives in various states. Of the 57,000 total children who have come to the U.S. since October, 47,000 have been released with court dates to come.

Clock is ticking: The Senate is also set to act this week on a House-passed bill that authorizes more than $10 billion for highway and mass-transit projects. The Wall Street Journal reports one of the amendments being considered would “reauthorize the highway programs only through Dec. 19 of this year,” which would punt the issue past the midterm elections “when partisan political pressures might ease.” As far as the timing of the votes in the Senate this week, a senior Democratic leadership aide says to expect the highway bill and the confirmation of the VA Secretary nominee Robert McDonald to get votes likely Tuesday and Wednesday (not necessarily in that order); the border bill vote could come Wednesday or Thursday; and VA reform will be determined by when it gets out of conference committee.

What’s the impeachment talk all about? Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise, the newly installed House majority whip, No. 3 in House GOP leadership, on Fox News Sunday would not answer if he’d rule out impeaching President Barack Obama. Instead, he pointed the finger at the White House for bringing it up. “We take it very seriously, and I don’t think it would be a good thing,” said Dan Pfeiffer, White House communications director, Friday of the possibility of the president being impeached. Democrats are using the prospect to fundraise and almost goading Republicans to go even further than their lawsuit. But Scalise has to see the trap, be more politically savvy and, in the words of Nancy Reagan, “Just say no.” There is a reason, though, perhaps that Scalise felt he couldn’t do that. There’s an activist contingent of conservatives, like Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, who think the president should be impeached. For his part, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has stated publicly, as recently as Wednesday, that he disagrees with those on the right calling for impeachment. Boehner also has an op-ed in USA Today defending his lawsuit. Impeachment talk has become a bipartisan affair. Remember, a town in Maryland voted to impeach President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney a decade ago; Liberal activist group MoveOn.org even has a petition going to impeach Boehner. There’s even an “Impeach Boehner” Facebook page. All this seems to be the new normal among activists post-Bill Clinton when the “impeach” bar was set.

U.S. accuses Russia of firing missiles into Ukraine: The U.S. released satellite imagery it says is evidence that Russia has fired rockets into Eastern Ukraine and has provided material support to rebels there. It’s an effort to put pressure not only on Putin, but also on the U.S.’s European allies to go along with tougher sanctions. By the way, Hillary Clinton weighed in on Russia Sunday. Despite giving Russia the gift of a “reset” button at the beginning of her tenure at the State Department, Clinton told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria that she was “among the most skeptical” that the overtures from the West to Putin and Russia would work. “The United States and Russia were hoping for the best,” she said. Part of this, however, creating a narrative for Clinton if she runs in 2016 to latch onto President Obama when its convenient because he’s still popular with important parts of the base while at the same time attempting to separate herself on more thorny or controversial parts of his foreign policy.

Quote of the day: “People get frustrated and people are just so fed up with the gridlock and dysfunction in Washington, the Congress is just so, unfortunately, unable to even agree on the most obvious kinds of matters. That I think, you know, Darth Vader looks pretty good to a lot of people.” — Hillary Clinton, appealing to the Star Wars geek set. It should be noted that Luke Skywalker, Hans Solo and Yoda all poll higher than Darth. Yoda 2016 slogan? “Do or do not. There is no try.”

Daily Presidential Trivia: On this day in 1965, President Lyndon Johnson announced he was increasing the number of American troops in South Vietnam from 75,000 to 125,000. Where did Johnson make this announcement? Be the first to Tweet us the correct answer using #PoliticsTrivia and you’ll get a Morning Line shout-out. Congratulations to Richard Oehler, Jr. (‏@rickoehler) and David Schooler (@GandTMan) for guessing Friday’s trivia: Who subpoenaed President Clinton? The answer was: Ken Starr.

LINE ITEMS

  • At 11:10 a.m. President Obama will deliver remarks at the Young African Leaders Initiative’s Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders Presidential Summit in Washington, D.C. In the afternoon, Mr. Obama will speak at a White House ceremony to award the National Medal of Arts to singer Linda Ronstadt; Jeffrey Katzenberg, CEO of DreamWorks; author and poet Julia Alvarez; the Brooklyn Academy of Music; arts patron Joan Harris, dancer/choreographer Bill T. Jones; composer John Kander; writer Maxine Hong Kingston, documentary filmmaker Albert Maysles; architects Billie Tsien and Tod Williams; and visual artist James Turrell. The president will also award the 2013 National Humanities Medal to radio hosts Diane Rehm and Krista Tippett; literary critic M.H. Abrams; historians David Brion Davis, Darlene Clark Hine and Anne Firor Scott; East Asian studies scholar William Theodore De Bary; architect Johnpaul Jones; filmmaker Stanley Nelson and the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Mass.
  • The Senate is working on a plan to crack down on tax cheaters and House Republicans want nothing to do with it.
  • Efforts to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank are facing intraparty resistance, while Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., plans to introduce a reauthorization bill that includes a coal provision, and Rep. John Campbell, R-Calif., has circulated a draft bill that that would curtail the bank’s power.
  • Congressional Democrats on Friday called on Majority Leader Reid and Speaker Boehner to delay recess until the House and Senate could agree on a VA reform bill. House Majority Whip-elect Steve Scalise, meanwhile, wouldn’t say on Sunday whether he supported delaying recess if a deal to stem the border crisis isn’t reached.
  • Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, says Congress needs to act on immigration legislation that would stem the flow of migrants, because children heading to the border are at risk of death in the summer heat.
  • Early polling of the Georgia Senate general election matchup is split.
  • The League of Conservation Voters has made two-week ad buy to boost Hawaii Sen. Brian Schatz ahead of his August 9 Democratic primary against Rep. Colleen Hananbusa.
  • Republicans’ increasing focus on economic mobility will be a new way to reach out to Hispanic voters still wary of the GOP on immigration, writes National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar.
  • Democratic Sen. Mark Warner and Republican Ed Gillespie squared off Saturday in their first debate, moderated by NewsHour’s Judy Woodruff, with the two candidates drawing contrasts on women’s health issues, immigration and health care.
  • Politico reports that Iowa Democratic Senate candidate Bruce Braley “has shaken up his campaign, parting ways with admaker Larry Grisolano and pollster Diane Feldman.”
  • A new CBS/New York Times battleground tracker based on online interviews with registered voters gives Republican Terri Lynn Land a slight advantage in the Michigan Senate race against Rep. Gary Peters.
  • National Republican Congressional Committee chair Greg Walden predicts that the GOP will pick up 11 seats in the House this fall.
  • Sen. John Walsh, D-Mont., admitted Friday he made a mistake and that he was not in the “best academic mind state” when writing his Army War College master’s thesis, but he deflected concerns that he had been suffering from PTSD.
  • Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is working to secure more black votes for the Republican Party. The 2016 hopeful spoke before a small crowd at the National Urban League Conference in Cincinnati Friday.
  • Mine, mine, mine! New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo defended his decision to disband an ethics commission he formed. “It’s my commission. My subpoena power, my Moreland Commission,” he told Crain’s. “I can appoint it, I can disband it. I appoint you, I can un-appoint you tomorrow. So, interference? It’s my commission. I can’t ‘interfere’ with it, because it is mine. It is controlled by me.”
  • As goes Virginia… Remember when there used to be such a thing as the “Virginia Way” and a “Virginia Gentleman”? It appears that gentile way of doing political business is falling by the wayside, tracking with the more vitriolic and partisan national climate, the New York Times reports.
  • The trial of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife Maureen commences Monday. The couple is facing 14 criminal charges of public corruption and lying on financial documents.
  • In North Carolina, two Republican leaders are caught in a balancing act: moving to the center to appeal to moderate Tar Heel state voters, while still pleasing the right-leaning base.
  • There’s now a “full-fledged cottage industry” of GOP consulting firms dedicated to defeating incumbent establishment Republicans.
  • Michigan Rep. Justin Amash is cruising just two weeks ahead of the GOP primary since establishment Republicans have largely held their fire against the tea party incumbent.
  • Romney would beat Obama 53 percent to 44 percent according to a CNN/ORC poll. Of course, there are no do-overs in presidential elections. Democrats also lead 48 percent to 44 percent on the generic congressional ballot.
  • “In what may be the most awkward legacy campaign,” the New York Times’ Sheryl Gay Stolberg writes, Georgia State Sen. Jason Carter has taken campaign advice and fundraising help from his grandfather, former President Jimmy Carter, but is trying to distance himself from his grandfather’s politics in a red state.
  • How New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie handles his state’s public pension crisis could indicate more about his success as a presidential candidate than anything he does in the early GOP primaries, Karen Tumulty writes in the Washington Post.
  • This is another potentially bad health care story for the administration. There are possible problems with automatic renewal, which was supposed to make the whole thing easier.
  • It’s “high time” to legalize marijuana, says the New York Times editorial board.
  • While pot politics becomes more liberal, guns are moving the opposite direction. A federal judge in New York found Washington, D.C.’s rewriting of its gun laws unconstitutional, going further than the 2008 Supreme Court law. The ruling allows people to carry guns outside their homes rather than just be permitted for self-defense within them.
  • During a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing last week, newly elected Florida Rep. Curt Clawson mistook two senior U.S. officials for representatives of the Indian government. “I’m familiar with your country; I love your country,” Clawson told the women, who were introduced as officials from the State and Commerce Departments.
  • Mr. Obama is not yet all cried out at the prospect of his oldest daughter heading off to college soon.
  • Keep an eye on the Rundown blog for breaking news throughout the day, our home page for show segments, and follow @NewsHour for the latest.

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Questions or comments? Email Domenico Montanaro at dmontanaro-at-newshour-dot-org or Terence Burlij at tburlij-at-newshour-dot-org.

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Editor’s note: The date of the Alaska primary was corrected to August 19.