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GOP victory in Florida sends early warning to Democrats

BY Terence Burlij and Simone Pathe  March 12, 2014 at 9:42 AM EST
Protesting the Affordable Care Act is a central theme for Republicans running in this year's midterm elections. Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

Protesting the Affordable Care Act is a central theme for Republicans running in this year’s midterm elections. Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

The Morning Line

The victory by Republican David Jolly in Florida’s special election Tuesday gives the GOP bragging rights heading into November’s midterm contests and sends a warning sign to Democrats running this fall.

Jolly, a former lobbyist and aide to the late GOP Rep. C.W. Bill Young, defeated Democrat Alex Sink 49 percent to 47 percent by making opposition to President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul the central argument of his campaign.

The seat in Florida’s 13th Congressional District had been held by Young for more than four decades until his death last fall, but voters in the district also backed Mr. Obama in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections. Sink also carried the district during her 2010 bid for governor against Republican Rick Scott.

For Democrats, the result signals a tough political campaign ahead, with public dissatisfaction toward the president and the Affordable Care Act high. With Sink, the former chief financial officer of Florida, the party had its preferred candidate and strong fund-raising ability, but was still unable to overcome the health care hurdle.

National Republican groups cheered the development Tuesday.

“Tonight, one of Nancy Pelosi’s most prized candidates was ultimately brought down because of her unwavering support for ObamaCare, and that should be a loud warning for other Democrats running coast to coast,” National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Greg Walden said in a statement.

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said Jolly’s victory “shows that voters are looking for representatives who will fight to end the disaster of ObamaCare, to get Washington to spend our money responsibly, and to put power in the hands of families and individuals.”

Democrats did their best to spin the loss.

“Republican special interest groups poured in millions to hold onto a Republican congressional district that they’ve comfortably held for nearly 60 years,” Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said in a statement. She claimed the GOP “fell short of their normal margin” because of Jolly’s “singular focus” on repealing the health care law.

The simple fact that the candidates and outside groups combined spent more than $12 million on the special election shows just how important winning the contest was to both parties. The win by Jolly gives Republicans a jolt of momentum moving toward the fall, while Democrats must figure out a way to better shield their candidates from attacks over the health care plan.

THE FEINSTEIN-CIA FEUD

One of the Central Intelligence Agency’s strongest defenders, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., suggested the agency may have thwarted the separation of powers in a 45 minute speech on the Senate floor Tuesday. She accused the CIA of improperly removing documents from computers used by the panel’s staff as part of an investigation into the agency’s interrogation methods.

It was first reported last week that the CIA monitored the computers they set up for the Senate Intelligence Committee staff in a secret Northern Virginia facility to review classified documents and prepare a lengthy report on the agency’s secret detention and interrogation programs. But while using those computers, the staff gained access to the CIA’s own internal review of the Bush-era interrogation practices — known as the “Panetta review” — and the CIA wanted to know how.

Feinstein maintains that the CIA report was included in the thousands of pages of documents provided for her committee’s review on those computers and that her staff did not penetrate unauthorized areas of the agency’s network.

CIA director John Brennan denied allegations the CIA had improperly monitored the committee’s work. Speaking at a Council on Foreign Relations event, he said, “That’s just beyond the scope of reason in terms of what we would do.”

“When the facts come out on this,” Brennan continued, “I think a lot of people who are claiming that there has been this tremendous sort of spying and monitoring and hacking will be proved wrong.”

The issue is striking a divide in the Capitol, with most Democrats rallying behind Feinstein. At a closed door meeting of Senate Democrats, the Intelligence Committee chairwoman received a standing ovation.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., also backed up Feinstein, suggesting an independent investigation might be necessary. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., echoed that sentiment, saying, “If what they’re saying is true about the CIA, this is Richard Nixon stuff.”

Republicans on the committee, however, seemed to think Feinstein should have been more reticent. “Right now we don’t know what the facts are,” cautioned Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., the ranking Republican.

LINE ITEMS

  • According to a Bloomberg News poll, 48 percent of Americans approve of President Obama’s job performance, up from 42 percent in December. The poll also found that 69 percent of Americans are in favor of the president’s appeal to increase the minimum wage rate to $10.10 over the next three years.
  • By executive order, Mr. Obama will direct the Labor Department to expand the number of people eligible for overtime pay.
  • A new Wall Street Journal/NBC poll has the president at a job approval rating of 41 percent, the lowest of his presidency.
  • President Obama will host the interim Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk at the White House Wednesday. The trip comes days before the Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula is expected to vote to become part of Russia or remain under the control of the Ukrainian government.
  • The Obama administration announced Tuesday that 4.2 million Americans signed up for plans on the health care exchanges through the end of February. The figure makes it unlikely the administration will meet its revised estimate of 6 million enrollees by the end of March. NPR’s Julie Rovner notes that only 25 percent of those who signed up for coverage are between ages 18 and 34, below the administration’s target of 40 percent.
  • Tuesday, Mr. Obama joined the web series “Between Two Ferns” with comedian Zach Galifianakis to promote his Affordable Care Act to young Americans. Clearing 2 million views in 3 hours, the video became the number one referral to HealthCare.gov. The Washington Post’s Chris Cilizza illustrates how the president has taken advantage of new media to reach niche audiences.
  • The Los Angeles Times’ Mike Memoli writes that Florida Sen. Marco Rubio has staked his claim “as a leader of the Republican Party’s wonk wing.”
  • The Washington Post’s Matea Gold and Rosalind Helderman report that a longtime adviser to Hillary Clinton sought and secured funds for an illegal shadow campaign to boost the Democrat’s 2008 presidential bid. National Journal’s Elahe Izadi and Alex Seitz-Wald, meanwhile, highlight the strong response to the Post story from Clinton allies.
  • Federal prosecutors in Manhattan have withdrawn their subpoena of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for records pertaining to potential conflicts of interest involving its chair David Samson, “apparently to clear the way for the investigation to be pursued by federal prosecutors in New Jersey,” writes the New York Times’ Kate Zernike and William Rashbaum.
  • The Record reports that Bridget Anne Kelly, the former Christie aide allegedly involved in orchestrating the George Washington bridge lane closures, is on the hunt for a new job and a new image.
  • The Senate Tuesday approved a measure that would eliminate taxpayer funding of national political party conventions. “The party is over for Washington politicians,” said Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., a co-sponsor of the bill.
  • Senate Democrats staged an all-night talkathon to warn about the consequences of inaction on climate change. The Washington Post’s Ed O’Keefe notes that campaign cash for the midterm elections might have had a little something to do with the 15-hour session.
  • Senators voted 97-0 Monday to approve a bill that would revamp how the military handles cases of sexual assault. The legislation, sponsored by Sens. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H. and Deb Fischer, R-Neb., would bar the use of a good service record as a defense.
  • The Detroit News reports that a Michigan cancer patient featured in an Americans for Prosperity ad criticizing the Affordable Care Act as “unaffordable” will save more than $1,000 this year under her new plan.
  • Ohio Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald had pizzas delivered to reporters around the Buckeye State in a “cheesy” attempt at criticizing Republican Gov. John Kasich’s tax cut proposal.
  • Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, refused to rule out a possible 2016 presidential bid in an interview with Hugh Hewitt on Tuesday.
  • Stu Rothenberg breaks down why polls show the Democratic brand in slightly better shape than the GOP label.
  • Roll Call’s Bridget Bowman reports that the Virgin Islands’ non-voting House delegate Donna M.C. Christensen, a Democrat, is leaving the House to run for governor.
  • A new survey from the GOP polling group Public Opinion Strategies gives Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell a 38-point lead in his Republican primary contest against challenger Matt Bevin.
  • McConnell’s campaign has yet to answer questions about whether the Kentucky senator owns a firearm after he brought a rifle with him last week to CPAC.
  • The Miami Herald’s Marc Caputo writes that Florida Republicans are nervous about the state of Gov. Rick Scott’s poll numbers.
  • While not mentioning Ted Cruz by name, Sen. Rand Paul wrote an op-ed for Breitbart.com that pushed back on the Texas senator’s contention that his foreign policy views aligned more closely with those of Ronald Reagan.
  • Time Magazine’s Zeke Miller reports the next president will get a new set of wheels.
  • Yahoo News’ Chris Moody explored what happens at CPAC after the sun goes down.

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Ruth Tam and Rachel Wellford contributed to this report.

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