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The Clintons come out fighting

BY Domenico Montanaro, Terence Burlij, Rachel Wellford and Simone Pathe  May 15, 2014 at 9:29 AM EDT
 Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addresses the American Jewish Committee Global Forum  in Washington, DC on May 14. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addresses the American Jewish Committee Global Forum in Washington, DC on May 14. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

The Morning Line

Today in the Morning Line:

  • The Clintons strike back
  • Christie says “Bridgegate” will be “footnote”
  • Shinseki to face Senate grilling Thursday
  • Incumbents on a roll this primary season

Going on the attack: Clinton World came out fighting Wednesday, defending former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s tenure, record, and attacks from the right — on Benghazi and former George W. Bush adviser Karl Rove’s suggestion that Clinton suffered a “traumatic brain injury” after a concussion in 2012. Both Clintons spoke in Washington Wednesday with the Associated Press calling Hillary Clinton’s speech before the American Jewish Committee “one of her most vigorous defenses of her tenure.” Former President Bill Clinton gave a sharp defense of his wife. “First they said she faked her concussion, and now they say she’s auditioning for a part on the ‘Walking Dead,’” he joked in an interview with NewsHour’s Gwen Ifill at the Peterson Foundation’s fiscal summit. He said Hillary Clinton, 66, is “strong” and “still quicker than I am.” But he also made news inadvertently about the severity of Hillary Clinton’s injury, saying it “required six months of very serious work to get over.” Asked about her health, a Clinton spokesman said, per the Washington Post, “She’s 100 percent, period” and taunted Republicans, saying they are “scared of what she has achieved and what she has to offer.”

Fighting fire with fire: Some Republican strategists think the Clintons are overreacting. Consultant and Reagan biographer Craig Shirley on MSNBC’s Morning Joe said the view among Republicans is, “If we drew blood on this, we’re going to hit them with everything.” That was pretty much already assured, given Hillary Clinton is probably the best chance of Democrats holding onto the presidency without a deep bench behind her. The Clintons know what’s coming. As Bill Clinton noted Wednesday, “It’s just the beginning…it’s just part of the deal.” The ex-president’s philosophy has always been that you leave no attack unanswered. That is going to mean one heck of a down and dirty 2016 presidential campaign. Hillary Clinton will be in New York Thursday, raising money for the campaign of former Rep. Marjorie Margolies, D-Pa., who happens to be Chelsea Clinton’s mother-in-law. Bill Clinton also appears in a closing ad for Margolies, released Wednesday, ahead of Tuesday’s crowded primary in Pennsylvania’s 13th Congressional District.

‘Later’: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie also spoke at the fiscal summit, and gave very strong hints that he is still on track to run for president in 2016. Asked about the bridge scandal that has been the focus of much of his second term, the always-blunt Republican shrugged it off as something that will only be a “footnote” in his political career. “As far as the impact on my political future, I think it will have none, because I didn’t do anything.” Asked if he is still considering running in 2016, Christie said flatly, “Yes.” Asked when he will announce, his response: “Later.”

Shinseki under fire: Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki will surely face tough questions Thursday at a 10 a.m. ET Senate hearing investigating recent allegations that at least 40 veterans died while waiting for treatment at a VA hospital in Phoenix. In prepared remarks, CNN reports Shinseki is expected to say that he is “personally angered and saddened by any adverse consequence that a veteran might experience while in, or as a result of, our care.” The AP notes that “VA facilities in South Carolina, Florida, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Washington state have also been linked to delays in patient care or poor oversight.”

Political headache for White House: The American Legion and several congressional Republicans have called on Shinseki to step down over the episode. This is a huge potential political problem for the Obama administration. Recognizing that, on Wednesday, the administration temporarily assigned one of the president’s closest advisers, deputy chief of staff Rob Nabors, to the VA to oversee a department review of patient safety rules and scheduling of appointments. The move signals the growing concern on the part of the administration to address the controversy. As the Hill’s Justin Sink notes, “the effort appeared to mirror a similar initiative taken by the White House in the aftermath of the botched rollout of the president’s signature health care law,” when Mr. Obama appointed Jeffrey Zients to oversee an overhaul of the online exchange. The review by Nabors will track alongside an investigation by the department’s inspector general that is already underway. The NewsHour examined the VA’s plan to solve the backlog of veterans’ benefits in a report that aired in March 2013.

Incumbents coasting so far: After the May 6 primaries in North Carolina, Indiana, and Ohio, we noted that incumbents had gone 36-for-36 that day. Political analyst Rhodes Cook takes it a step further, noting that with seven primaries behind us, not a single incumbent has lost. Get this: “Already, nominations have been decided in nearly 100 of the nation’s 435 congressional districts.” That’s nearly a quarter of all House members, who have sailed through. He continues, “In a year when it once looked as though many incumbents would be quite vulnerable, exactly none, zero, nada have lost thus far. That goose egg applies not only to sitting House members but to senators and governors as well.” But that could change soon. In Texas, for example, Rep. Ralph Hall, the oldest member of Congress at 91, is in a battle for his job that will be decided in a May 27 runoff. (H/T: Taegan Goddard.)

Daily Presidential Trivia: On this day in 1970, President Nixon nominated America’s first two female generals. Who were they?
Be the first to Tweet us the correct answer using #PoliticsTrivia, and you’ll get a Morning Line shout-out. No one guessed yesterday’s trivia. The answer was: a ceremony to unveil a statue of George Washington at Willow Grove Park in Pennsylvania.

LINE ITEMS

  • President Obama will deliver remarks at the dedication ceremony for the September 11th Memorial and Museum in New York City at 10 a.m. ET Thursday.

  • Speaking in front of New York’s Tappan Zee Bridge Wednesday, Mr. Obama urged Congress to approve billions of dollars worth of infrastructure funding to upgrade America’s sagging roads and create jobs.

  • At a private Upper East Side fundraiser Wednesday, Mr. Obama reiterated that Democrats suffer from a “cogential disease” that depresses midterm turnout, while attacking the GOP for relying on voter suppression as their “main election strategy.”

  • Billionaire environmental activist Tom Steyer, who says he plans to spend $100 million on TV ads, hinted at how he will go after Republicans on climate change. “If you are thinking about running for president, answer this: Do you stand with the facts, or do you stand with Sen. [Marco] Rubio?” an announcer says in a web video, delivering a warning shot to 2016 Republican hopefuls.

  • In the GOP Senate primary fight in Georgia, Rep. Phil Gingrey is accusing former secretary of state Karen Handel of promoting “teenage homosexuality” because she approved funds for Youth Pride during her time as county commissioner.

  • Democratic Rep. John Barrow, of Georgia’s 12th Congressional District, is lying in wait to see who his GOP opponent will be in the only district in the state with the chance of flipping party control.

  • Democrats in primary contests from Hawaii to Maine are using abortion as a wedge issue to distinguish themselves from other Democrats.

  • Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the president’s pick to be the next Health and Human Services secretary, faced another friendly Senate hearing Wednesday, this time before the Finance Committee.

  • Christie’s former campaign manager Bill Stepien claims he told the governor that Port Authority official David Wildstein was talking about lane closures on Dec. 12 — the day before Christie publicly said he hadn’t known about the closures. Stepien’s lawyer is demanding that changes be made to the Christie report concluding that Stepien misled him.

  • A Quinnipiac poll has Ohio Gov. John Kasich up 15 points over his Democratic challenger, Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald. Looking ahead to 2016, Quinnipiac also found that Kasich runs better against Hillary Clinton in the Buckeye State than any other Republican surveyed.

  • A 17-year-old high school senior in West Virginia beat out an incumbent state House delegate.

  • Sens. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, are attempting to update the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Right Act, so that a student’s information is better protected in the modern age of technology.

  • With strong speeches on the floor Wednesday from Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Majority Leader Harry Reid, the Senate is putting new pressure on the House to pass immigration reform.

  • Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Texas, could soon be in trouble with the FEC over his failure to pay back political donations after he lost to Texas Sen. John Cornyn, in the March 4 primary.

  • Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is about to sign a bill into law that would allow handgun permit holders to bring guns into restaurants.

  • The Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Justice released documents Wednesday revealing that Sprint demanded the legal reasoning behind the NSA’s phone data collection, back in 2010.

  • A U.S. District Judge in Pennsylvania hears arguments Thursday challenging the state’s ban on recognizing same-sex marriages performed in other states. The Keystone State is the only northeastern state that still bans same-sex marriage.

  • Based on loose math by the Washington Post, nearly half of gay Americans can now marry.

  • According to an investigation by the inspector general for the Department of Justice, the cities of Tampa, Florida and Charlotte, North Carolina misused money given to them by the federal government to strengthen security during the 2012 party conventions.

  • -Missouri’s legislature passed a bill Wednesday that requires women to wait three days after seeing a doctor to get an abortion. Gov. Jay Nixon has not announced whether he will sign it.

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