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Pair of Controversies Could Spell Long Week Ahead for GOP

Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo.

Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., drew criticism for comments made about rape and abortion. Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call.

The Morning Line

It’s been a long week for the Republican Party, and it’s only Monday.

The first of two weekend firestorms started in Missouri, where Rep. Todd Akin, who won the Show Me State’s GOP Senate primary two weeks ago, caused a stir when he was asked about his opposition to abortion in cases of rape.

“It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare,” Akin said of pregnancies from rape. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something. I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist, and not attacking the child.”

The six-term congressman made the comments in an interview with Charles Jaco of KTVI-TV in St. Louis that was posted to the station’s website on Sunday.

Akin moved quickly to clean up his remarks, saying he “misspoke.” But the Tea Party-backed nominee showed no signs of wavering in his views against abortion.

“In reviewing my off-the-cuff remarks, it’s clear that I misspoke in this interview and it does not reflect the deep empathy I hold for the thousands of women who are raped and abused every year,” he said. “I recognize that abortion, and particularly in the case of rape, is a very emotionally charged issue. But I believe deeply in the protection of all life and I do not believe that harming another innocent victim is the right course of action.”

Still, the damage was done, with Akin’s comments drawing criticism from members of both political parties. Vulnerable Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, whom Akin hopes to oust in the November general election, called the statement “outrageous.”

“It is beyond comprehension that someone can be so ignorant about the emotional and physical trauma brought on by rape,” said McCaskill. “The ideas that Todd Akin has expressed about the serious crime of rape and the impact on its victims are offensive.”

Before the primary, McCaskill actually ran ads boosting Akin, with Democrats saying they believed he was the weakest rival of the field.

The GOP ticket also issued a statement distancing themselves from Akin’s comments.

“Governor [Mitt] Romney and Congressman [Paul] Ryan disagree with Mr. Akin’s statement,” the campaign said. “A Romney-Ryan administration would not oppose abortion in instances of rape.”

As you can see in our Vote 2012 Map Center, 37 percent of Missourians are evangelical. It’s not the highest percentage in the country, but one that Akin has long planned on appealing to in November.

Politico’s David Catanese reports that Akin’s remarks have Republican officials worried about the party’s chances of winning control of the Senate this fall.

There’s now a burgeoning sense among anxious Republicans and cautious Democrats that Akin is handing McCaskill a ripe opportunity to climb back in a race that should be close to over. At least one public poll since the primary has shown McCaskill within the margin of error — a position she hadn’t seen in months. And if Akin fumbles his shot at a race that GOP operatives felt supremely confident about just a month ago, it’s difficult to see how the party converts the four pickups it needs to wrest back Senate control.

As if the Akin saga weren’t enough, Republicans were also confronted Monday with a Politico report that the FBI had conducted an investigation of a late-night swim in the Sea of Galilee “that involved drinking, numerous GOP freshmen lawmakers, top leadership staff — and one nude member of Congress.”

Jake Sherman and Josh Bresnahan detail the skinny-dipping exploits:

During a fact-finding congressional trip to the Holy Land last summer, Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.) took off his clothes and jumped into the sea, joining a number of members, their families and GOP staff during a night out in Israel, the sources told POLITICO. Other participants, including the daughter of another congressman, swam fully clothed, while some lawmakers partially disrobed. More than 20 people took part in the late-night dip in the sea, according to sources who were participants in the trip.

If you thought Republicans were going to party in Tampa, Fla., now you know they really know how to get funky. But all kidding aside, the two stories present a challenge for the party as it aims to put forward a united front at its national convention exactly one week from now.

RYAN’S TAX RATE

On Friday night, the Romney campaign released two years of Ryan’s tax returns, less than one week after his selection as vice presidential candidate was made official.

The documents show that Ryan and his wife paid a 20 percent tax rate last year and a 15.9 percent tax rate in 2010. (Romney said last week he has never paid less than 13 percent.)

The Los Angeles Times summed it up: The Ryans had gross income of $323,416 in 2011, which included about $50,000 in capital gains, interest and dividends, and $116,000 from partnerships and trusts.

The Ryan family income was up sharply in 2011 from the year before, when it reported gross income of $215,417. The increase was attributable to the trust income that began flowing when Janna Ryan’s mother died. Disclosure forms filed by Ryan and property records show that the trust has significant land holdings, petroleum leases and other operations.

The Times also reports that the Ryans “made charitable and other tax-deductible contributions of about 4% of their income in 2011, or about $13,000, up from $2,600 the year earlier.”

Democrats remain fixated on the issue, with the White House keeping up calls for Romney to release more years of returns. Team Romney said over the weekend his 2011 tax returns will be out by Oct. 15.

SHIELDS AND LOWRY

On Friday’s NewsHour, Mark Shields and the National Review’s Rich Lowry, filling in for David Brooks, assessed Ryan’s first week on the trail.

“It was a bold decision. It energized Mitt Romney in a way I had not seen before,” Shields said.

Lowry’s take:

The Romney campaign didn’t have to be reckless, but it did have to have a pulse. And this pick has given it a pulse, and for the reason Mark talked about. Republicans were sort of negatively energized by the prospect of beating President Obama, but they needed something more.

Shields said he’s baffled as to why Romney brought the tax issue back to the forefront. “If I were sitting in Boston in the Romney campaign yesterday, I would have been reaching for the vodka bottle when he started talking about the matter,” he said.

They also talked about which party does better on this policy issue, with Shields arguing voters trust the Democrats as “champions” for preserving and protecting Medicare.

Lowry agreed: “Oh, that’s definitely true. Republicans have a credibility gap. If they can just fight this to a draw, it will be a huge advantage for them.”

Still, he said: “Ordinarily, it would just be deadly associating yourself with Paul Ryan and with this reform, which Romney had endorsed before. But the saving grace for Republicans is the $700 billion in cuts that Democrats passed to fund Obamacare.”

Watch the segment here or below:

Mark and David will be back together Friday, and in both Tampa and Charlotte, N.C., we’ll bring you their analysis daily on the NewsHour, during the conventions and in our 24-hour livestream.

2012 LINE ITEMS

  • Are you an undecided voter in Virginia? Here’s your chance to weigh in on the convention and help us with our reporting. If you’re willing to talk to the NewsHour after each nomination speech, fill out this form.
  • Team Romney on Monday released a television ad highlighting the Richmond Times Dispatch’s comments on welfare reform. Team Obama released several ads over the weekend: this television spot goes after Ryan’s record on women’s issues and seven state-specific radio ads attack the GOP ticket.
  • Romney personally vetoed six designs for his convention stage layout, Phil Rucker reports in the Washington Post. And the New York Times’ Jeremy W. Peters previews plans to warm Romney up to America by maknig the stage feel like a giant living room.
  • The Democratic Party announced more convention speakers, including Virginia Senate hopeful and former governor Tim Kaine and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
  • The Washington Post’s Jason Horowitz takes a close look at Romney’s time as leader of the Mormon church in Boston.
  • Politico’s Manu Raju reports that Donald Trump will have a “surprise” role at the upcoming Republican National Convention.
  • The Washington Post’s Jerry Markon finds Ryan has a long record of asking for government funding for his district.
  • Kaiser Health News examines what Ryan’s plan would do to change Medicaid. Check it out, and learn more from our partners at ShoutAbout using the widget below.
  • Politico’s Glenn Thrush dishes dirt from inside the Obama camp in a new e-book.
  • Team Romney spent part of Friday needling the president for a light interview he conducted with KOB FM Radio in Albuquerque, N.M. Romney spokesman Ryan Williams noted: “[H]e talked about the serious challenges facing the nation, such as his favorite chili, the super power he wants, and his favorite workout music. No wonder it’s been nearly 60 days since President Obama took serious questions from the White House press corps.”
  • More than 93,000 people have viewed this video starring an imagined Rafalca talking about his wealthy owners.
  • Here are some photos of Ryan wearing no shirt, courtesy of, natch, TMZ.
  • Just a little something called making history.

TOP TWEETS

OUTSIDE THE LINES

  • Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., apparently inspires love. The New York Times reported Saturday, “There have been 10 weddings so far, and two more scheduled this fall — an average of nearly one ‘Schumer Marriage’ (his term) for each year he has spent in the Senate.”
  • A comedian, a consultant and a politician walk into a bar. Two of them are named Mark Katz.
  • Paul Solman takes a look at summer workers.
  • By this point, Florida is used to being at the center of voter ID wars.
  • The Boston Globe notices that GOP Sen. Scott Brown and Democrat Elizabeth Warren actually are sticking to their pledge not to allow outside spending.
  • Roll Call’s Emily Cahn crunched the numbers in federal disclosures and found that Johnny’s Half Shell is the restaurant of choice for Capitol Hill fundraisers.

ON THE TRAIL

All events are listed in Eastern Time.

  • Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan attend a town hall event in Manchester, N.H., at 10:35 a.m.
  • President Obama attends meetings at the White House and does a series of interviews with local television and print outlets at 2:25 p.m. The president and first lady Michelle Obama will have dinner with winners of a campaign contest at 6:15 p.m.
  • Vice President Joe Biden meets with King Abdullah II of Jordan at the Naval Observatory at 4:15 p.m.

All future events can be found on our Political Calendar:


For more political coverage, visit our politics page.

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Questions or comments? Email Christina Bellantoni at cbellantoni-at-newshour-dot-org.

Follow the politics team on Twitter: @cbellantoni, @burlij, @elizsummers, @kpolantz, @indiefilmfan, @tiffanymullon, @dePeystah, @meenaganesan and @abbruns.

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