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Republicans turn on each other ahead of key primaries

BY Domenico Montanaro, Terence Burlij, Rachel Wellford and Simone Pathe  May 16, 2014 at 9:11 AM EDT
Campaign workers plant signs before the debate of Republican candidates vying for Georgia's open U.S. Senate seat at the Columbia County Exhibition Center in Grovetown, Ga., April 19. Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

Campaign workers plant signs before the debate of Republican candidates vying for Georgia’s open U.S. Senate seat at the Columbia County Exhibition Center in Grovetown, Ga., April 19. Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

The Morning Line

Today in the Morning Line:

  • Caught in the crossfire in Georgia GOP Senate primary
  • Family feuds come with risk
  • DHS Secretary Johnson says “fresh start” needed on deportation policy
  • 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board

Georgia Senate race gets nasty: Boy, that escalated quickly. Next Tuesday’s Super Tuesday elections in six states are going to provide a lot of the storylines that represent this election, none bigger than Senate control and the role of women candidates. And in one of those states, Georgia, the race has gone from a civil affair to downright nasty. Politico’s Manu Raju raises the curtain, noting the crowded GOP primary “has devolved into an all-out brawl in its final days, ripe with charges of sexism, arrogance, lying, distortion and even ‘promoting teenage homosexuality’ — and that’s just a taste of the venom.” The top three candidates are former Dollar General and Reebok CEO David Perdue, former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel and Rep. Jack Kingston. Perdue is being attacked in the way Mitt Romney was during the 2012 GOP primary, with Kingston accusing him of “bankrupting” a company. Perdue criticized Handel as a typical politician, who “defines self-interest over the interests in serving the constituents” because “she ran five times for five different races, got elected twice, didn’t finish either term.” Handel’s response: “Would we be having this conversation if I were a man?” Handel, who’s making a play for the tea party with Sarah Palin’s backing, dismissed Kingston as a “seat warmer.” Meanwhile, Rep. Phil Gingrey, further back in the polls, blasted Handel for “‘promoting teenage homosexuality’ when she backed funding for an LGBT group on the Fulton County commission in 2006.”

The risk of a family feud: Democrats are smiling at the fighting as their candidate, Michelle Nunn, waits in the wings — and this infighting is almost certain to last another nine weeks. The winner Tuesday has to get 50 percent to avoid a July 22 runoff between the top two. But that’s not likely to happen. As Raju writes, “The fight here underscores a larger dynamic this midterm year: While the environment is ripe for a Senate GOP majority, one or two missteps could leave Republicans frustratingly short for a third straight election cycle.” That’s especially true as Perdue, seen as possibly the strongest general election candidate, has been forced to tack right and prove his conservative bona fides. Speaking of the GOP family feud, don’t miss this Robert Costa piece on leading Washington conservatives meeting Thursday to vent frustrations about the string of Republican establishment victories this primary season. They worry that even if Republicans win a Senate majority, it won’t be conservative enough. And others said they thought Republicans couldn’t win “if they are not going to stand for something.” It’s all music to Democrats’ ears — even if Republicans still have the upper hand this fall.

‘Fresh start’ coming on deportation policy: Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Thursday in an interview with the NewsHour’s Judy Woodruff that the country’s deportation program, Secure Communities, needs “a fresh start” and that the Obama administration would outline changes in the near term. “We’re in the midst of evaluating potential revisions to our policies right now. I have been having meetings as recently as today,” Johnson said. Immigrant rights advocates have criticized the program, saying it has resulted in the deportation of undocumented immigrants arrested for minor offenses. Johnson conceded Secure Communities has become “very controversial,” but said the program “should be an efficient way to work with state and local law enforcement to reach the removal priorities that we have, those who are convicted of something.” The secretary also addressed potential expansion of the administration’s Deferred Action program, which protects children brought to the country illegally by their parents. Johnson indicated the administration has “a fair amount of discretion” when it comes to enforcement activities, but said the department was wary of pre-empting Congress with any policy revisions. “They are the lawmakers,” he said. “Whatever we do in the executive branch, we have to do within the confines of existing law.” The dilemma for the White House is that any changes to deportation or deferred action policies will likely draw additional scrutiny from congressional Republicans, who contend the main roadblock to passing immigration reform is a lack of “trust” in the president to enforce the law. But given that reform appears unlikely to move in Congress before the November election — and Latinos are a key pillar of Democratic electoral hopes in this election year — revising deportation and deferred action policies could allay some concerns in the Hispanic community.

Brown v. Board anniversary: On the eve of the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board, the landmark Supreme Court ruling that declared separate schools for black and white children “inherently unequal,” the New York Times looks at First Lady Michelle Obama growing up in segregated Chicago and her family’s decision to have her attend a newly opened integrated high school that changed her life. The city opened the school “under pressure to comply with the landmark Supreme Court decision.” The first lady heads to Topeka, Kan., Friday, where she visits the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site and will address a class of graduating high schoolers (which hasn’t come without controversy). President Obama is not doing anything public to commemorate this anniversary at this point, but he meets tonight at the White House “with the families of the plaintiffs in the Brown lawsuit and two of the lead lawyers … to pay his respects.” Tune in to the NewsHour tonight for an in-depth conversation on what challenges remain, even as we celebrate the 60th anniversary of the decision.

Quote of the day: “I don’t like political correctness. … It sucks. It’s bondage.” — Idaho GOP gubernatorial candidate Harley Brown responding to a question about bigoted jokes on his campaign website during a debate on Wednesday.

Daily Presidential Trivia:
On this day in 1868, President Andrew Johnson was acquitted during the Senate impeachment, by one vote. Why was he impeached?
Be the first to Tweet us the correct answer using #PoliticsTrivia, and you’ll get a Morning Line shout-out. Congratulations to Rachael ‏(@CreativeArtistB) for correctly guessing yesterday’s trivia. The answer was: Anna Mae Hays and Elizabeth P. Hoisington.

LINE ITEMS

  • Pols on the move: On Friday Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker will speak at Concordia University’s commencement, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will deliver the Rowan University commencement, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, will attend the Hamilton County GOP dinner, Rick Santorum takes his book tour to Texas and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., is on her book tour in Boston.

  • Hillary Clinton gets a 57 percent positive to 43 percent negative favorability rating in a new Reuters/Ipsos poll.

  • Earlier this week, the NewsHour looked at this history of polarization and how it will only get worse. One of the reasons for that increased polarization is redistricting. The Washington Post has a fun look at some of the most gerrymandered districts in the country.

  • U.S. Senate candidate Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, is up 11 points over her closest GOP competitor in a Loras College poll released Thursday.

  • Anti-abortion groups are trying to keep pediatric neurosurgeon Monica Wehby, the leading GOP candidate to challenge Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley, from securing the nomination Tuesday. Meanwhile, Wehby has been accused by her ex-boyfriend of “harassing” his employees, “stalking” him and entering his home without his permission, which prompted him to call the police.

  • Charlie Cook doesn’t think Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor is toast, predicting Tom Cotton is going to strongly regret his vote against the farm bill come November.

  • Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, is endorsing fellow Pine Tree State delegate Susan Collins for re-election, all but crushing the hopes of the Democrat, Shenna Bellows.

  • Sen. Rand Paul is running into fundraising troubles among major donors who worry the Kentucky legislator would not be forceful enough on foreign policy if he became president.

  • Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is planning to push for a constitutional amendment to regulate campaign finance that would effectively reverse the Supreme Court’s ruling in McCutcheon earlier this year.

  • 37 Republican senators are demanding the creation of a Senate select committee to investigate the 2012 Benghazi consulate attack.

  • On Thursday, Sen. Reid was highly critical of President Obama’s nomination to a district court in Georgia.

  • Having served in the Senate for 37 years, Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, has sponsored or co-sponsored the most bills that have become law.

  • Mulling a presidential bid and facing a grand jury investigation into whether he abused his authority as governor, Rick Perry is up against a “case that legal experts say has virtually no precedent in modern Texas history,” writes the Wall Street Journal.

  • Democratic candidates are dropping out of the crowded race to replace retiring Rep. Jim Moran in Virginia’s 8th Congressional District as the field coalesces around three front-runners.

  • A judge in Arkansas allowed gay marriages to continue Thursday, after the state’s Supreme Court had in effect stopped marriage licenses from being issued to same-sex couples.

  • Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie is expected to sign same-day voter registration legislation, with the hopes of boosting turnout in the state with the lowest voter participation rates.

  • And in Ohio, Democratic legislators are pushing Secretary of State John Husted for expanded voter access.

  • Indiana Gov. Mike Pence wants to use federal Medicaid funds to expand a state health care program that, unlike traditional Medicaid, would require many participants to make monthly contributions to their coverage.

  • The Associated Press, the Guardian and three Missouri newspapers have sued the Missouri Department of Corrections for not identifying the sources of drugs it uses for lethal injections.

  • Pushing for lower interest rates for existing student loan borrowers, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., urges students to carefully evaluate repayment plans. Forty members of congress have student loans.

  • 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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