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Democrats suffer setback in key Senate race

BY Terence Burlij, Domenico Montanaro, Rachel Wellford and Simone Pathe  July 24, 2014 at 9:20 AM EST
Sen. John Walsh, D-Mont. Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

Sen. John Walsh, D-Mont. Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

The Morning Line

Today in the Morning Line:

  • Plagiarism report dampens Walsh’s election prospects
  • Lawmakers still divided on border legislation
  • Don’t discount third-party candidates

Walsh confronts plagiarism charges: Sen. John Walsh already faced long odds to winning a full six-year term in November, and that was before the New York Times reported Wednesday that the Montana Democrat plagiarized substantial portions of his final thesis at the U.S. Army War College. The Times’ Jonathan Martin writes: “An examination of the final paper required for Mr. Walsh’s master’s degree from the United States Army War College indicates the senator appropriated at least a quarter of his thesis on American Middle East policy from other authors’ works, with no attribution.” The six conclusions put forward in the 14-page thesis, Martin adds, “are taken nearly word-for-word without attribution from a Carnegie Endowment for International Peace document.” (The Times created an interactive graphic that details the sections of the paper where Walsh used passages either without attribution, or with improper sourcing.) Walsh told the Associated Press Thursday his failure to properly attribute parts of his thesis was an unintentional mistake caused in part by post-traumatic stress disorder from his service in Iraq. “I don’t want to blame my mistake on PTSD, but I do want to say it may have been a factor,” Walsh said. “My head was not in a place very conducive to a classroom and an academic environment.”

Other questions about Walsh’s record: The plagiarism controversy follows the release of an Army inspector general report late last year that Walsh improperly used his position as adjutant general of the Montana National Guard to solicit members to join the National Guard Association of the United States, a private group that lobbies on behalf of the guard. Roll Call also raised questions about Walsh’s educational background in February, noting differences in his resumes available online. Walsh has made his military service a focal point of his candidacy, with phrases such as “Montana courage” and “selfless service” featured on his campaign website, along with photos of the lawmaker in uniform. Walsh’s appointment to the Senate by Montana Gov. Steve Bullock as a replacement for former Sen. Max Baucus, who departed to become ambassador to China, was seen as a tactical advantage in the fall campaign against GOP Rep. Steve Daines. Democrats hoped the move would elevate Walsh’s profile and boost his fundraising abilities. As it happens, the Senate on Wednesday advanced legislation sponsored by Walsh that would give employers tax credits for bringing jobs back the U.S. But Walsh did not appear with his colleagues at a news conference touting the proposal. And Politico notes the measure is nearly identical to a 2012 bill offered by Sen. Debbie Stabenow. The Michigan Democrat is a co-sponsor of Walsh’s legislation.

A long shot to begin with: Despite the head start from his appointment, Walsh always faced an uphill climb in November. Most observers were putting this, South Dakota and West Virginia in the GOP column already, but Democrats were hoping to at least make Republicans work — giving them somewhere to go on offense with so few targets. Early polls showed Daines with a sizable advantage (as much as 17 points), but strategists on both sides expected the margin to narrow, especially given Montana’s history of close Senate elections. Earlier Wednesday Stu Rothenberg looked at some of the recent polling data from Montana to determine whether the race is really tightening, or if Democrats are simply manufacturing buzz. Rothenberg wrote that despite polls showing Walsh closing to within five or seven points, he still considered Daines the “clear favorite.” Any hopes for Democrats here suffered a significant setback with this news. One thing is clear here: in the big picture, heading into the summer after this first part of the primary season, Republicans have certainly done everything necessary to put themselves in the best position possible to take back the Senate.

Immigration talks continue, but still no votes: House Republicans introduced their own plan Wednesday for handling the influx of illegal immigrants coming across the southern U.S. border. And it’s $2.2 billion less than what President Barack Obama requested from Congress earlier this month and about $1 billion less than Senate Democrats proposed a day earlier. During a closed-door meeting Wednesday, a House Republican working group led by Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, unveiled the proposal, which focuses on the deployment of National Guard troops to the border and expediting the deportation of recent illegal immigrants. Granger told the Washington Post that the intention is not to repeal the 2008 human trafficking law, but to change parts of it. In a letter to the president, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, voiced his concerns about the ability for Republicans to compromise on immigration reform if changes are not made to the 2008 law. “It is difficult to see how we can make progress on this issue without strong, public support from the White House for much-needed reforms, including changes to the 2008 law,” Boehner wrote. Of course, immigration reform had little-to-no chance of advancing in the GOP-controlled House even before this crisis. But even passing the Republican legislation out of the House won’t be easy. Some members have indicated they are leaning no on the House Republican plan. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz met with a group of House conservatives Wednesday morning to discuss the proposal, and, according to those present at the breakfast, per The Washington Post, Cruz urged the members to stick to their convictions. Cruz is not the only senator who does not support the House GOP plan. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., criticized the working group’s proposal, saying, “I think it would be a colossal error to pass any kind of legislation that does not prohibit the president from granting legal status to five or six million people, as he’s indicated he intends to do.” Sessions added in a written statement that “it would be tragic” for the House to compromise on any immigration legislation. And there are just eight days to go until the August recess.

Watch third-party candidates: The two political parties in this country are so entrenched they are unlikely to be dislodged, even in this era of disillusionment with all things Washington and politics. But third-party candidates should not be out and out dismissed, not so much because they have a chance at WINNING many races but because they can have a potential effect on swaying some key races. A Quinnipiac poll out in the Florida governor’s race, for example, shows the little-know Libertarian candidate Adrian Wyllie pulling in 9 percent of the vote. Democratic challenger Charlie Crist leads Republican Gov. Rick Scott in the poll 39 percent to 37 percent with Wyllie on the ballot. Without Wyllie on the ballot, Crist’s lead grows to 5 points. In North Carolina, it’s the Democrats who could stand to benefit in the Senate race. Libertarian Sean Haugh, who has qualified for the ballot, is getting high single digits to low double digits in some polling — with little to no name identification and pulling from Republican Thom Tillis. The Washington Post’s Karen Tumulty and Reid Wilson noted earlier this month that “Libertarians are poised to draw votes in at least 10 other competitive Senate elections this fall — in Montana, Oregon, Colorado, Minnesota, Iowa, Arkansas, Michigan, Virginia, West Virginia and Alaska. The party is working to collect enough signatures to appear on ballots in Kentucky and New Hampshire and is attracting attention with gubernatorial candidates in Florida and Kansas.” Remember, in the Virginia governor’s race in 2013, Libertarian Robert Sarvis got nearly 7 percent of the vote. Democrat Terry McAuliffe won by just 2.5 percentage points, though evidence suggests Sarvis did not sway the election. It’s always unclear how much support these candidates will actually get on Election Day, and they’re easy to dismiss, but they are essentially protest votes. And there’s a lot to protest for some right now. If these candidates have an impact in even one or two places, that could affect control of the Senate or a key presidential swing state governor’s race like Florida.

Quote of the day: “The facts suggest that President Obama has just used a federal regulatory agency to launch an economic boycott on Israel, in order to try to force our ally to comply with his foreign-policy demands.” — Sen. Ted Cruz, Republican from Texas, alleging a conspiracy theory that the Federal Aviation Administration shut down flights from the U.S. to Israel because of politics. It’s not like there’s a war going on and another plane hadn’t been shot down in another war zone recently.

Daily Presidential Trivia: On this day in 1862, former President Martin Van Buren died. What was Van Buren’s first language? Be the first to Tweet us the correct answer using #PoliticsTrivia and you’ll get a Morning Line shout-out. Congratulations to Kathleen Glanville (@KathleenGlanvil) for guessing Wednesday’s trivia: What was President Grant’s real name? The answer was: Hiram Ulysses Grant.

LINE ITEMS

  • At 12:40 p.m. ET, President Obama will attend a DNC roundtable. Afterward, the president will deliver remarks on job training at the Los Angeles Trade-Technical College at 4:15 p.m. ET. Mr. Obama returns to Washington Thursday night.

  • The president is planning to issue an executive order for a branch of the Commerce Department to develop privacy guidelines for commercial drones operating in U.S. airspace.

  • IRS Commissioner John Koskinen told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Wednesday that the agency is no longer investigating the missing emails of Lois Lerner, so that they will not interfere with the inspector general’s investigation.

  • Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin is using his top position on the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee to work several of his legislative priorities into the military spending bill.

  • In a speech on family values at Catholic University, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio condemned the “growing intolerance” for those who define marriage as between one man and one woman, and that said viewpoint does not make its supporters “anti-gay.”

  • A Marquette Law School poll puts Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker in a near tie, leading his Democratic opponent Mary Burke 46 percent to 45 percent among registered voters. Burke, meanwhile, has a single-point advantage among likely voters.

  • Wednesday night the Arizona Department of Corrections executed Joseph Rudolph Wood. It took them nearly two hours to do so.

  • Alaska, Alabama, Arizona, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Idaho, Utah and Louisiana all joined an amicus brief in support of Indiana’s appeal of the unconstitutionality of the state’s same-sex marriage ban.

  • A federal judge in Denver ruled that Colorado’s gay marriage ban is unconstitutional, but stayed the ruling, giving the state a month to appeal.

  • Under a proposed EPA rule to curb carbon pollution, demand for electricity from coal would be cut, while demand for natural gas would increase, benefitting Texas and Oklahoma, whose governor and senior senator, respectively, have been among the strongest skeptics of global warming and EPA regulation.

  • In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and the Goldwater Institute’s Clint Bolick write that “there is a reason and a need for compassion” in handling the southern border crisis, but that migrant children who come here illegally from Central America should be deported. They call on House Republicans to take the lead on comprehensive immigration reform.

  • The fate of New Hampshire’s 1st Congressional District lies in the political wind, as it has for the past two elections when former Rep. Frank Guinta was elected in the 2010 Tea Party wave, and then in 2012, when Rep. Carol Shea-Porter swept in, campaigning against that wave. This year marks their third face-off.

  • A McKinsey report finds that the Social Security Administration has spent $300 million on a computer system that was supposed to streamline disability claims. But it still doesn’t work and lines for claims are backing up, the AP reports.

  • West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin tells National Journal’s Ron Fournier that he would support legislation to make it illegal for American companies to do what his daughter’s did — renounce its citizenship and move overseas to avoid federal taxes. Manchin’s daughter is CEO of the generic drugmaker Mylan, which makes most of its money from Medicare and Medicaid payments, and announced last week it will become incorporated in the Netherlands.

  • Former South Dakota GOP Sen. Larry Pressler, who is running as an independent in this year’s Senate contest, isn’t splitting GOP voters the way Democrats had hoped he would; instead he’s cutting into Democrat Rick Weiland’s base of support.

  • Background interviews with officials on the Hill, and especially the White House, are no longer one-on-one, but more like one-on-two, as the “chaperoned interview” becomes the norm in Washington.

  • Mr. Obama is speaking more openly about his daughters, in part to connect with constituents, but also to emphasize the open-mindedness of young people, like Sasha and Malia, on issues like race or climate change.

  • Vice President Biden takes to the white board to explain American infrastructure.

  • Military dogs took over a hearing room of the House Budget Committee Wednesday, as the American Humane Society fights for the Department of Defense to grant them guaranteed retirement in the U.S. “Dogs are magical creatures because they can make a rusty, cranky old curmudgeon like Don Young seem almost lovable,” Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said of the Alaska Republican, who reminded colleagues he was the only musher in Congress.

  • BuzzFeed gives props to Rep. John Dingell’s Twitter skills.

  • 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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