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The political implications of the Hobby Lobby case

The Morning Line

Today in the Morning Line:

  • Waiting for Hobby Lobby
  • Scathing VA report; Obama to announce new boss
  • Our updated Senate ratings
  • No change in the top eight races
  • Iowa cracks the top 10 while Michigan drops off the list

All eyes on the Supreme Court: The Supreme Court today will decide two cases with broad implications for the president and Democrats — whether the Affordable Care Act can require companies to provide contraceptive coverage and a case that could crush public sector unions. Two years after the Supreme Court upheld President Barack Obama’s health care law as constitutional, the justices on Monday at 10 a.m. ET will issue a decision in the Hobby Lobby case and decide whether the ACA violates the free exercise of religion. We’ll say this — Chief Justice John Roberts certainly likes drama, leaving the most controversial decision for the last day of the session after a string of unanimous decisions. There are a host of other contraception challenges making their way through the courts from religious non-profits and Catholic universities. The political implications from today’s decision are big — any weakening of an ACA provision will be trumpeted by Republicans as they seek momentum ahead of November’s elections. But if it’s upheld, it will be the rare bit of good news for Democrats and the Obama administration of late. The court could go so far as to decide that public sector unions can’t automatically deduct dues from members. As is often the case with the court, there’s a question of how narrow or broad it goes.

New Secretary of Veterans Affairs: President Obama will announce Monday at 4:30 p.m. ET former Procter & Gamble CEO Bob McDonald as the new head of Veterans Affairs. The move came after a White House-commissioned report released Friday found a “corrosive culture,” “significant and chronic systemic failures” and an agency that is “cumbersome and outdated.” The report also called the 14-day waiting requirement instituted by former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki “unrealistic.” McDonald, 61, is a West Point graduate and Army veteran. That will likely give momentum to a bipartisan bill on Capitol Hill to reform the VA, but the sticking point — as with most things — is money. In addition to pointing out the VA’s problems and failures, it also notes that the VA lacks the necessary resources. McDonald has a massive challenge in front of him. Of all the bureaucratic government agencies, the VA stands out as the poster child. His business and West Point background will likely grease the wheels of his confirmation, but that’s when the tough part begins. The other point here — was it ever surprising to people that the VA was “cumbersome and outdated”? It has been for a long time. Why did it take the Obama administration six years and a scandal to realize that? Also today, the president hosts Chilean President Michelle Bachelet at the White House at 10:55 a.m. ET and hosts an LGBT pride reception at 5:25 p.m. ET.

Battle for control of the Senate: Establishment Republicans followed a good month in May (North Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky) with another strong month in June with Joni Ernst avoiding a runoff in Iowa and Thad Cochran winning his runoff in Mississippi, which in all likelihood takes the Magnolia State off the table for Democrats. Below is our updated list of Top 10 Senate races, with No. 1 being the most likely to flip. There is not much changed in our order. In fact, our top eight all remain the same. But Iowa makes its debut, Michigan is squeezed out and Alaska drops to No. 10. The firewall for Democrats continues to be Mark Begich in Alaska and Mark Pryor in Arkansas, who is holding steady. It’s very early, and the landscape will probably hold for much of the summer. But don’t expect it to remain that way. Most people don’t start paying attention until after Labor Day. So watch for some turbulence in mid-to-late September. As a reminder, Republicans need to net six seats to win a Senate majority. And, as always, we base our analysis on conversations with campaigns and committees, public and private polling, and voter and state trends. These are not intended to be projections, but a look at where things stand right now.

  1. South Dakota (Open-Democratic controlled): Republican former Gov. Mike Rounds looks to be in good shape against Democrat Rick Weiland, even with former GOP Sen. Larry Pressler running as an independent. (Previous rank: 1)

  2. West Virginia (Open-D): Democratic Secretary of State Natalie Tennant faces an uphill climb against GOP Rep. Shelley Moore Capito in a state where President Obama is deeply unpopular. (Previous: 2)

  3. Montana (Walsh-D): Republican Rep. Steve Daines continues to hold an advantage over Democratic Sen. John Walsh, both in terms of cash-on-hand and in the polls. Democrats say they have seen some tightening here in recent weeks, but acknowledge Walsh still has ground to make up. (Previous: 3)

  4. Louisiana (Landrieu-D): The big question here is whether Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu can win the race outright on Election Day by taking more than 50 percent of the vote. There are three Republicans on the ballot, making it difficult for GOP frontrunner Bill Cassidy to clear that threshold. The odds still look good for this race to head to a December runoff (aka “Louisiana Limbo”) that could potentially decide control of the Senate. (Previous: 4)

  5. North Carolina (Hagan-D): The toss-up race between Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan and Republican state House speaker Thom Tillis in this presidential battleground state may be the closest thing we have to a political weathervane this November. After being bombarded with millions of dollars in attack ads from Americans for Prosperity, Hagan is starting to see some outside help pour in from national women’s groups such as EMILY’s List and Planned Parenthood. Tillis also has had to take time away from the campaign trail to deal with a combative legislative session that began in May. (Previous: 5)

  6. Kentucky (McConnell-R): Republicans believe conservatives will come home and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will find a way to pull out a win in November — despite most public and private polls showing the race to be a dead heat. As is the case with the other red states on this list, Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes must overcome the president’s low approval ratings in the state — an effort not helped by the administration’s recent announcement of new regulations to cut carbon pollution from power plants in this coal-friendly state. (Previous: 6)

  7. Arkansas (Pryor-D): Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor still looks like he’s holding his own despite early on being called the cycle’s “most vulnerable incumbent.” Ironically, Pryor has made GOP Rep. Tom Cotton’s voting record the centerpiece of his campaign, attacking his opponent for supporting the overhaul of Medicare and Social Security and opposing the Farm Bill. Cotton has had his challenges as a candidate, but remains a key recruit and will benefit from plenty of outside spending on his behalf. At the moment, both sides see their candidate with a slight advantage. (Previous: 7)

  8. Georgia (Open-R): Things are at a standstill in the Peach State for a few more weeks, as Republicans await the result of the July 22 runoff between GOP Rep. Jack Kingston and former Dollar General/Reebok chief executive David Perdue. The polls show Kington with the lead, an outcome Democrats say would allow them to run against House Republicans. But Republicans will take either over conservative firebrands Reps. Phil Gingrey and Paul Broun, who lost in the primary. Democrat Michelle Nunn has benefited from the drawn-out GOP primary process, but expect the polls to shift once she has an opponent and the attacks start in full force. (Previous: 8)

  9. Colorado (Udall-D) and Iowa (Open-D): Both of these states went for President Obama twice, but they are looking like tough terrain for Democrats this fall. In Colorado, Democratic Sen. Mark Udall is working hard to define GOP Rep. Cory Gardner as extreme, especially on social issues such as abortion rights and “personhood.” Gardner has looked to reframe his positions, writing an op-ed in the Denver Post advocating that women should be able to purchase birth control without a prescription. Republicans also got some help with former Rep. Tom Tancredo losing the GOP gubernatorial primary, avoiding the prospect of having his past controversial statements redirected at Gardner. In the Hawkeye State, meanwhile, Republican Joni Ernst has consolidated conservative support and started to pick up the fundraising pace, while Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley’s early campaign has been characterized by missteps. She saw a bump after the primary, but Braley holds a four-point lead in a recent Quinnipiac University poll. (Previous: 10 / Not ranked)

  10. Alaska (Begich-D): The fact of the matter is that it Sen. Mark Begich is in better shape than any of the other Democrats on the list. Yes, he represents a state that Mitt Romney won by 14 points in 2012, but the geographic separation of the state from the lower 48 may work in his favor. He can steer clear of a lot of the national political noise. Democrats say Begich has only gotten stronger as the campaign has advanced, and Republicans acknowledge he is running a smart race. On the GOP side, former state natural resources commissioner Dan Sullivan looks to be the favorite, but he must deal with a primary contest that won’t be resolved until August 19. The question is: Does this race start to close in the fall, given its conservative bent? (Previous: 9)

Honorable mentions: Michigan was tied for 10th last month, but it comes off the list for now, as Rep. Gary Peters appears to be in better shape against Republican Terri Lynn Land. New Hampshire, Oregon and Virginia remain uphill climbs for Republicans.


  • President Obama warned in an ABC interview of Europeans sympathizing with ISIS who could pose a threat to the United States with this: “We have seen Europeans who are sympathetic to their cause traveling into Syria and now may now travel into Iraq, getting battle-hardened. Then they come back. They’ve got European passports. They don’t need a visa to get into the United States.”

  • While Hillary Clinton’s book rollout wealth gaffe may have resonated inside the Beltway, it’s not having much impact outside of it. By a 55 percent to 37 percent margin, an NBC/WSJ/Annenberg poll finds Americans believe she can relate.

  • Mr. Obama plans to ask Congress for more than $2 billion in emergency appropriations to respond to the rise in Central American migrants illegally crossing the U.S. border. He’ll also seek revised statutes to allow the Department of Homeland Security to accelerate the screening and deportation of unaccompanied minors not from Mexico.

  • The State Department halted their 2007 investigation of Blackwater’s operations in Iraq after the security contractor’s top manager threatened “that he could kill” the chief investigator, James Risen reports in The New York Times.

  • The Wall Street Journal: “ISIS Declares New Islamist Caliphate.”

  • Democrats are building up on-the-ground resources in rural areas of Alaska and Montana to court the Native vote.

  • Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s decision to appoint Brian Schatz to replace the late Sen. Daniel Inouye, disregarding Inouye’s wish for Rep. Colleen Hanabusa to fill his seat, is “setting off a backlash that threatens to topple both Mr. Schatz and the governor,” reports the New York Times’ Adam Nagourney.

  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., has raised and distributed $2.3 million to 28 Democratic Senate nominees and is campaigning with vulnerable Dems in red states like Kentucky and West Virginia.

  • Warren, on her plans for 2016, to the Boston Globe this weekend: “I am not running for president. Do you want to put an exclamation point at the end of that?”

  • The Atlanta Journal Constitution breaks down where the state’s leading senate candidates have raised money. Democrat Michelle Nunn has raised $3 million from 49 states, while GOP Rep. Jack Kingston has raised about the same amount — the most of any candidate — from Georgia.

  • Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn is in jeopardy this fall, and he’s about to sign into law a host of new easier-to-vote provisions that will only apply to this fall’s elections — things like same-day voter registration, expanded early voting, even college students being able to change their official residences from their home states to their Illinois colleges on Election Day.

  • Renewed violence in Iraq is making it difficult for Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., to court a GOP long dominated by its pro-defense wing. Dick Cheney and daughter Liz are forming a new organization to support a strong national defense in response to Paul, whom Liz calls “dangerous.”

  • “There are few signs,” The New York Times’ Manny Fernandez writes, that Texas State Sen. Wendy Davis “has fully harnessed the power” of the grass-roots movement sparked by her marathon filibuster last year “to convince voters that she can win in a state where Democrats have not won a governor’s race since 1990 and have not won any statewide race since 1994.”

  • House conservatives who backed Rep. Raul Labrador’s bid for Majority Leader have set their sights on rewriting House rules, including forcing leaders to allow a full three days between when a bill is introduced and voted on.

  • The map of House races at play has shrunk, as Democrats and Republicans face relatively fewer pick-up opportunities compared to recent years, and consequently, pour even more money into fewer districts, as this map from National Journal demonstrates.

  • Florida’s Rep. Curt Clawson, who won the special election to replace Rep. Trey Radel, wants to serve as a new model for the tea party candidate.

  • New Jersey Democrats are bracing for a series of vetoes of tax increases and pension payments from Gov. Chris Christie Monday — his last day to act on the $34.1 billion budget the Legislature sent him last week. The New York Times editorial board questions Christie’s ability to manage the state’s money “in ways that benefits the public.”

  • The Georgetown neighbors of Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen object to her security detail in their gated community, including the idling of heavy trucks for each Yellen pick-up and the “doughnut bellies” of the blue-uniformed officers.

  • Forget it, the Kissing Congressman is not retiring after all. Louisiana Rep. Vance McAllister, a married conservative Republican, is announcing at a noon ET Monday press conference that he’s recanting his April pledge to retire after being caught on tape making out with a staffer.

  • 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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