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Politics, in a quiet moment, looks to outer space

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

Everything’s the same as it was yesterday.

The Morning Line

We’re kidding, of course. Newsworthy moments happened in the political world. But as your Morning Line co-authors sipped our coffee this morning, we realized that the current political moment is a jumbled and disparate one, filled with a collection of viral images, pop culture riffs and provocative sound bites. We’re in a bit of a lull waiting for President Barack Obama to formally present his agenda at Tuesday’s State of the Union address; a low-key January in which state governors and even mayors have driven days of the news cycle, and in which the most buzzed-about moment Thursday had nothing to do with governing.

It was a magazine cover, of a former and possible future presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, without hair, as a planet.

The Times explained how it came up with the idea, based on a man-in-the-moon image from the 1902 silent film “Le Voyage Dans la Lune.” The Internet responded with a creative outpouring, spreading the Clinton image into every meme tucked away in Twitter’s basement. Slate tried to spread love, dubbing every celestial body in the solar system with its own politician, e.g., “Earth: Al Gore, naturally” and “Moon: Newt Gingrich, fulfilling his lifelong dreams.” And Juli Weiner at Vanity Fair called the image a “Dadist masterpiece” and asked important questions, such as “Why is Planet Hillary the only anthropomorphized astronomical entity?” and “Why can’t planets have hair?”

It was a pop culture moment to behold, and one that contributes to the growing drumbeat of the 2016 presidential election. Political images that overshadow moments of substance typically happen during campaign seasons, those periods of nationwide political fandom that traffic in buzz and advertising in a way that meshes nicely with Internet culture. For instance, Big Bird, binders and a bench-pressing Rep. Paul Ryan notably overtook our 2012 political discourse for a few hours. But in this case, Clinton said no words, nor made any public appearances to prompt the buzz. No article had even been published yet.

It since has. In it, writer Amy Chozick profiles in miniature a few key players in the Clinton world, from daughter Chelsea to aide Philippe Reines, and examines how the inter-inner-circle relationships function. Infographics boil down Clinton social circles into catchy orbitals, such as “Frenemies,” “East-Wing Divas” and “Potus Patrol,” with lone stragglers like Usher, Oscar de la Renta and Jeff Gordon floating nearby. Democratic strategist Donna Brazile sums up how the orbit of Clinton folks may change, while the center stays the same. “I love Barbra Streisand,” Brazile tells Chozick, “but Beyoncé is what’s happening now. I love Peter, Paul and Mary, but she needs to be Justin Timberlake. She can’t afford to kick people out, but she can afford to let new people come in. I realize that’s uncomfortable.”


After a six-month review, the president’s Commission on Election Administration Wednesday released a series of recommendations designed to improve the way America votes. The steps outlined in the 112-page report range from expanding online voter registration to updating electronic voting machines.

Gwen Ifill sat down Thursday with the commission’s co-chairs, Robert Bauer and Benjamin Ginsberg, to explore the proposed reforms.

Bauer, who served as the chief lawyer for the president’s 2012 re-election campaign, said the reforms put forward in the report are ones that Democrats and Republicans should be able to support.

Most Americans agree that balloting should be secure, double voting shouldn’t be permitted. They also agree that access shouldn’t be unnecessarily hindered. We have recommendations about, for example, populations of voters that deserve special attention, like military voters, disabled voters, language minority voters.

But all Americans shouldn’t find it exceptionally difficult to vote. And we sort of adopted and our commission composition reflected a view that, in a way, voters should be treated, expect to be treated the way customers at our best-run businesses.

Ginsberg, who was Mitt Romney’s top lawyer in the 2012 campaign, said the focus going forward should be at the state and local levels.

We really did concentrate on state and local officials, because our elections are administered in 8,000 separate jurisdictions.

So you really need to concentrate on state and local officials. They said, first of all, there is not uniformity in the problems we face nor the solutions for the different locales. They have concerns about a number of areas. We didn’t talk to a single election official who said, I love the equipment our voters vote on.

In fact, there was uniformity that there are real problems with the machines they have now, which are going to end up sort of being worn out within the next decade. They are not happy with the choices that are available on the marketplace today. That in part is because of a federal certification and standardization process that is simply not working.


  • Priorities USA, the massive Super PAC that was a key funder for President Barack Obama’s re-election effort, formally will support a Hillary Clinton presidential bid. Jim Messina, former Obama for America director and later the president’s deputy chief of staff, will head it.
  • Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers will deliver the Republican response to the president’s State of the Union address next Tuesday. The GOP introduced the chair of the House Republican Conference in this bio/ad/video.
  • Former Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell turned down a plea deal last month to accept one non-corruption charge, spare his wife and avoid trial.
  • And Sen. Rand Paul will fly solo in his own response to the State of the Union address, via social media and his email list.
  • Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said this at the Republican National Committee’s winter meeting: “If Democrats want to insult the women of America by telling them they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing them for them a prescription each month for birth control because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of government, then so be it.”
  • President Obama hosted a group of mayors, telling them he hoped they could work around congressional gridlock.
  • Federal prosecutors have issued subpoenas to N.J. Gov. Chris Christie’s re-election campaign team and GOP leadership seeking documents regarding the George Washington Bridge traffic lane closure.
  • Paul Ryan says he doesn’t want to be speaker of the House.
  • Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley pushed a proposal for a statewide minimum wage hike to $10.10 per hour in his State of the State speech Thursday.
  • In other Maryland news, make sure you watch this snippet of O’Malley’s speech, in which the governor, a la Ron Burgundy, reads the sub-header “conclusion” off his teleprompter.
  • Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker expressed frustration Thursday that one of the 13 newly-hired workers he recognized in his State of the State address turned out to be a registered sex offender with three drunken driving offenses.
  • Texas GOP Rep. Steve Stockman, who has launched a long-shot Senate primary challenge to Minority Whip John Cornyn, has gone MIA.
  • First Lady Michelle Obama ate lunch with former Olympic athletes and area school children at a Washington, D.C. Subway to promote the sandwich chain’s children’s meals, which are said to be one of the healthiest in the industry.


Ruth Tam contributed to this report.

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