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Congress is about to get even more polarized

BY Domenico Montanaro, Rachel Wellford and Simone Pathe  May 14, 2014 at 9:09 AM EDT
Photo credit: Flickr Editorial/Getty Images

Photo credit: Flickr Editorial/Getty Images

The Morning Line

Today in the Morning Line:

  • 2014 midterms will make polarization worse
  • The man who would be the longest-serving member in the House disqualified from the ballot
  • Bitcoins: A whole new world
  • The tea party responds
  • Interviewing Bill Clinton

Just when you thought it couldn’t get worse…: Congress may be the most divided it’s been in a generation, but it’s about to get worse. Results Tuesday highlight how the 2014 midterms will mean a deepening of the polarization in Congress. In Nebraska, Ben Sasse, the tea party and anti-establishment-backed candidate, won the Republican Senate primary convincingly, 49 percent to 22 percent over his closest competitor. He is now the probable next senator from the Cornhusker State, as Nebraska isn’t considered a competitive state this fall. Sasse is expected to be a more orthodox conservative than the man he is replacing, Mike Johanns, whom National Journal ranked as just the 31st most conservative senator. In West Virginia, as expected, Rep. Shelly Moore Capito won the GOP primary and is favored to win the seat in the fall. While she is a pro-government conservative, she would be replacing Democrat Jay Rockefeller, who opted not to run for re-election, and would certainly be to his right.

…It’s about to: Because of other Democratic retirements in red states, there will likely be Republican senators in South Dakota and Montana. Democrats also have a fight on their hands in Iowa, where the retirement of Sen. Tom Harkin, one of the architects of the health care law, has put that seat up for grabs. The leading contender on the GOP side for the June 3 Senate primary is a whole lot more conservative — Joni Ernst, a pig-castrating, Harley-riding, gun-toting conservative in the mold of Sarah Palin. And while the establishment candidates for the May 20 Senate race in Georgia are less extreme rhetorically than two of the tea party-aligned congressmen in the Senate race, it remains to be seen how they would govern. One of them will replace Saxby Chambliss, who tried to forge a bipartisan compromise on solving the nation’s debt by, in part, saying some taxes needed to be raised.

Even in the House: Most wouldn’t think the House could get any more partisan, but it will. Retirements of moderates in at least half a dozen seats will likely mean even more ideological rigidity. And it’s not just on the Republican side. National Journal noted that the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats are down from a membership of 54 in 2010 to 19 today. (Part of that is, of course, that many of those Blue Dogs were targeted in 2010 by Republicans because they were in conservative districts — not because of primaries like on the Republican side.) Brookings has a great interactive on how things have changed in Congress since just before the Civil War. And polarization has gotten worse over the last 30 years. There are plenty of reasons for the trend — from members jetting home and not socializing anymore to the more partisan bents of gerrymandered districts. But whatever the reason, the reality is the next Congress will almost certainly mean more of the same inertia and incivility.

Conyers kicked off ballot: A county clerk ruled Tuesday that John Conyers, the man who would be the longest-serving member of the next Congress, does not qualify for the ballot. Conyers, 84, needed 1,000 signatures to get on the ballot. His team collected 2,000, but state law requires that all signature gatherers be registered voters in the state. Two were not, and some 1,400 signatures were deemed invalid. That leaves Conyers, who was first elected in 1964 and is a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus, short. He has until the end of the week to appeal to Michigan’s Republican secretary of state. The American Civil Liberties Union has filed suit, and Conyers could run as a write-in candidate. Paging Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska… By the way, Conyers’ campaign manager, who was ostensibly responsible for overseeing the signature collection, alleged conspiracy. He told the New York Times, “We have to ask the obvious question of whether the congressman was set up.”

Bitcoin rush? As we mentioned in Friday’s Morning Line, the Federal Elections Commission decided last week that political action committees can accept bitcoin contributions for federal elections under the condition that donors identify themselves. This is a whole new world, and one we, frankly, don’t fully grasp. One politician does seem to get it — Democratic Colorado Rep. Jared Polis, the founder of the greeting card site BlueMountain.com and ProFlowers.com. He has already received 39 different bitcoin donations totaling about $1,500, the Center for Public Integrity reported Tuesday. The FEC is limiting individual donors to a maximum of $100 worth of bitcoins per election. But here’s the thing: that’s not a hard donation of $100. Bitcoin value can fluctuate wildly and daily. At its height, a bitcoin’s worth was $1,147. Currently, it’s about $437. Appreciation of value after a donation IS allowed. In other words, as the Center for Public Integrity points out, if someone gives $100 in bitcoins at the beginning of a campaign, and it’s worth $10,000 by the end, the campaign can bank that. So you’re telling us that the FEC, which can barely regulate elections now and winds up fining campaigns years later, is going to be able to handle this? OK…

Interviewing Bill Clinton: NewsHour’s Gwen Ifill interviews former President Bill Clinton at 11 a.m. ET as part of the 2014 Peterson Foundation Fiscal Summit. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will be on the stage later, at 12:30 p.m. ET, interviewed by CBS’s Bob Schieffer. The Peterson Foundation is focused on debt reduction.

The tea party responds: Many tea party groups claimed victory Tuesday night in Nebraska and in the 2nd Congressional District in West Virginia. We wrote yesterday of the likely Nebraska win, “The tea party can still get a win… when the establishment doesn’t challenge.” One prominent tea party group, the Tea Party Express, took exception. In addition to noting its win in a House race special election in Florida, Taylor Budowich, the group’s executive director, responded this way, in part: “You go on to reference races in Texas, North Carolina and Ohio where national Tea Party groups were nearly non-existent. Thom Tillis [the establishment candidate in the North Carolina Senate race] racked in a couple million dollars from Crossroads and the Chamber of Commerce, but then compare that to the $100,00 Greg Brannon received from FreedomWorks and $30,000 from Tea Party Patriots and you’re at about 95%-5% expenditure disparity. Most [of] the national groups, including my organization, Tea Party Express, were not involved in any those four of races. So your commentary could just as easily be: ‘Translation: The establishment can still get a win… when the Tea Party doesn’t challenge.’”

Daily Presidential Trivia: On this day in 1897, “The Stars and Stripes Forever” by John Philip Sousa was performed for the first time. What was the event and where was it held?
Be the first to Tweet us the correct answer using #PoliticsTrivia, and you’ll get a Morning Line shout-out. Congratulations to Graham H. Morris (@GrahamHMorris) for guessing Tuesday’s trivia correctly. The answer was: Abraham Lincoln.

LINE ITEMS

  • Politico notes the importance of the tea party win in Nebraska was largely because fundraising could have dried up without it.

  • After an ugly and expensive campaign between two Democrats, city councilman Ras Baraka has been elected mayor of Newark, New Jersey, succeeding Sen. Cory Booker. The New York Times’ lead: “Councilman Ras Baraka, the fiery scion of a militant poet, was elected mayor of Newark on Tuesday, signaling a likely shift in the direction that New Jersey’s largest city had embarked upon for most of the last decade.”

  • House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., could be facing his own tea party problem leading up to the June 10 primary, with challenger Dave Brat starting to receive national attention.

  • President Obama will attend Democratic National Committee and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee fundraising events in New York Wednesday night.

  • The AP declared Clay Aiken the winner in North Carolina’s 2nd Congressional District Democratic primary the day after his closest rival died. After absentee ballots were counted, Aiken actually picked up 21 votes. On election night, Aiken led by 369 votes, but now that’s up to 390.

  • Democrats’ choice to run against Rep. David Jolly in Florida’s 13th Congressional District is dropping out of the race after questions of resume padding came up. Ed Jany announced his decision Tuesday, but cited his prior commitment to helping coordinate security for the World Cup in Brazil this summer, which will not allow him enough time to run for office.

  • Asked if he’d run for president if Jeb Bush runs in 2016, Florida GOP Sen. Marco Rubio joked at the National Press Club, “I hadn’t heard he was interested.” He added, “I think Gov. Bush would be a very formidable candidate.”

  • Gov. Rick Scott, R-Fla., has closed the gap with former Gov. Charlie Crist, D, with Crist up just one point, 44 percent to 43 percent, according to a poll out Tuesday. What’s making the difference? The Miami Herald’s Marc Caputo reports Scott has spent $8 million on TV ads compared to $0 for Crist.

  • One of the strongest operators Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has working on his behalf this election cycle may be his wife, former labor secretary Elaine Chao. She’s “unapologetically ambitious” with an “expansive network” and “short fuse,” Jason Horowitz writes in the New York Times.

  • Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., was censured by county party leaders… again.

  • Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, along with the DSCC and Put Alaska First, a super PAC backing the incumbent, bought a combined $6.4 million in political ads.

  • Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., is out with two new ads featuring the former mayor of New Orleans, who also happens to be her father.

  • A federal judge ruled late Tuesday that Idaho’s ban on gay marriage was unconstitutional.

  • The Washington Post’s Niraj Choski reports that of the 33 states with gay marriage bans, North Dakota and Montana will soon be the only states to not have their law disputed.

  • The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit appeared divided on whether Virginia has the right to ban gay marriage. The ban was overturned in February by a federal judge in Norfolk, and will likely be sent to the Supreme Court following the appeals court’s review.

  • The Washington Post’s Philip Bump outlines the changeover of speakers of the House over the past century, and how unlikely an overthrow of John Boehner would be.

  • Two Democrats and two Republicans in the House have proposed a new piece of legislation called “If Our Military Has to Fly Coach Then so Should Congress Act of 2014” that would force members of Congress to purchase coach tickets instead of first class when flying on the government’s dime.

  • The Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services announced Tuesday that 90 people have been charged with Medicare fraud, resulting in around $260 million in false billings.

  • 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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