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Senior Dem's Tough Re-Election

After 38 years in Congress, Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV) is facing his toughest race yet and could join a number of longtime members in leaving Congress next year.

Nick Rahall has been representing the heart of coal country in southern West Virginia since 1977 but he might not for much longer.

The 19-term Democratic incumbent, who chaired the House National Resources Committee from 2007-2011 and would be in line to take over the powerful Transportation and Infrastructure Committee if Democrats somehow manage to take back control of the House in 2014, is in the congressional race of his life.

According to Politico Rahall now “trails significantly” his Republican opponent, State Senator Evan Jenkins and the incumbent wasn’t included in a long list of ad reservations announced by the Democratic superPAC, House Majority PAC, although the group already has spending heavily on his behalf. In addition, it seems that there will still be money earmarked for Rahall from DCCC. As  first reported by John King on CNN, the West Virginia congressman was talked out of retirement by Democratic leadership in exchange for a guarantee of more campaign cash.

His tough campaign marks a turning point in Congress where an increasing number of veteran members aren’t returning next year.  Already four of the ten most senior members of the House are retiring, including John Dingell (D-MI), the longest serving congressman in history, and two others, Charlie Rangel (D-NY) and Ralph Hall (R-TX) face bruising primary fights.

Open Primary

GOP Candidate's Awkward Obama Vote

Longtime Republican operative Barbara Comstock is a frontrunner to win the GOP nomination for Congress in a Northern Virginia district. However, she may be hurt by a 2008 vote for Barack Obama.

Virginia State Delegate Barbara Comstock is the ur-Republican.

Comstock, who is the frontrunner for her party’s nomination in the open seat in Virginia’s 10th Congressional District, made a career as a party apparatchik before seeking elected office. She investigated Whitewater in the 1990s, before moving on to digging up dirt on Al Gore in 2000 and becoming a zealous defender of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay while he was under criminal investigation in 2005.  She has endorsements from political figures ranging from Mitt Romney to Sean Hannity. While in the Virginia House of Delegates, she has supported legislation that would require women seeking an abortion to have a transvaginal ultrasound first, voted against Medicaid expansion and to further loosen the Old Dominion’s already lenient gun laws.  So why would anyone attack her as a moderate? Well, she voted for Barack Obama.

In 2008’s presidential primary, Comstock cast her ballot in Virginia’s presidential primary for Barack Obama. In a statement, her campaign initially claimed that it was part of Rush Limbaugh’s “Operation Chaos” in order to insure Democrats nominated a weak candidate against John McCain. The problem for Comstock is that Operation Chaos started after Virginia’s February 12 primary  and its goal was to prop up Clinton and keep Democrats battling each other as long as possible. As Limbaugh described it at the time:

Operation Chaos was born primarily for the purpose assuming Obama was going to be the nominee at the get go of this. He needs to be bloodied up politically since McCain is not going to do it . . . The only person that can do it is Hillary, and she can't do it if she's not in the race -- and so the purpose was Operation Chaos was to keep her in the race and to have her bloody up Obama in the process of staying in the race.

Help

Dem Urges Obama On Ukraine Intel

Republicans are not alone in urging President Obama to share intelligence with Ukraine on Russian troop movements. On Wednesday, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) voiced his concerns as well.

A key Democratic member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence joined Republican colleagues on Wednesday in urging President Obama to share more intelligence with Ukraine about Russian troops gathered on its border.

In an appearance on MSNBC  Rep. Adam Schiff said he did not think the United States was doing enough to help prepare Ukraine for what it may be facing. “I think we should be doing more,” he said. “There is more we could do to help Ukraine prepare that doesn’t put at risk any of our intelligence gathering methods and the degree that we can track Russian military movements. So I think there is a lot more we could do and a lot more we should do.”

The Daily Beast reported Tuesday that senior military officers were instructed not to provide their Ukrainian counterparts with detailed intelligence briefings on the troops amassed on Ukraine’s border.  Those troops--numbering 80,000, according to recent estimates—include mobile field hospitals as well as fighter aircraft, light infantry and tanks.

Schiff, a seven-term Democrat from Los Angeles County, noted Wednesday, “We certainly have intelligence about Russian troop movements and that intelligence is very alarming. Russia has everything it needs to move into Ukraine at a moment’s notice.”

Beak To Beak

Duck Dynasty Rep In Sex Scandal

Rep. Vance McAllister (R-LA), a first-term conservative congressman elected in a November special election, was shown in a romantic embrace with a staff member on a video tape released Monday.

The Duck Dynasty congressman got caught sticking his beak in the wrong place.

Rep. Vance McAllister, a freshman Republican elected in a November special election with the support of the Robertson family from Duck Dynasty, is already in a political scandal and asking forgiveness from his constituents. McAllister, a family values social conservative, was caught on camera apparently making out with his scheduler, Melissa Peacock, in the hallway of his Monroe, Louisiana, district office. In what appears to be the building's security footage, the newly elected congressman seems to be cannoodling with Peacock, who was a max donor to McAllister's special election campaign. 

The scandal could make re-election far more difficult for McAllister. He won in a special election upset over State Senator Neil Riser, who was considered the establishment GOP candidate. The district, where President Obama only won 38% of the vote in 2012, is not considered competitive for Democrats.

Sadly for McAllister, newly elected Louisiana Republican hasn't even seemed to be enjoying his job so far. In January, the Shreveport Times reported that McAllister said that his job "sucks [and] it ain't no fun."

Foster Friess, a major Republican donor, sent out a "humorous parody" video on Monday of Hitler complaining about Obamacare.

What could go wrong sending out a "humorous parody" of Adolf Hitler complaining about his Obamacare?

The idea certainly didn't raise any red flags for Foster Friess, the conservative billionaire and Rick Santorum backer in 2012 who sent a "Humorous Parody of Hitler Realizing He Can’t Keep His Doctor Under ObamaCare" to his email list on Monday afternoon. 

The video, features a clip from the 2004 German movie "Downfall" of Hitler realizing that all was lost while his Berlin bunker. However, the subtitles have been changed to show the genocidal German dictator complaining that he was being forced to see a Jewish doctor, Dr. Feingold, for his prostate screening instead of Dr Steiner under Obamacare. Hitler then rages that he was told that if he liked his plan, he could keep it. The video ends with Hitler noting that "Obama now has a growing integrity gap. His poll numbers are plummeting." It ends with the Nazi leader mournfully noting "there's no way we can pin this one on Bush."

This isn't Friess's first brush with controversy. The conservative donor famously said on live television in 2012 that "You know, back in my days, they'd use Bayer aspirin for contraception. The gals put it between their knees, and it wasn't that costly."  

Tom Petri, a 35-year Wisconsin Congressman faces a tough primary that could end the career of the last "Rockefeller Republican" on Capitol Hill.

Tom Petri is an institution in Wisconsin politics but the 35-year-veteran of Capitol Hill faces a tough path to re-election.

The moderate GOP congressman from Wisconsin's 6th Congressional District is perhaps the last remnant of an era when the phrase "liberal Republican" wasn't an oxymoron but instead represented a thriving wing of the Republican Party. Even as late as 1979, when Petri first came to Congress in a special election, he arrived in Washington DC to a party where figures like Jacob Javits and Charles Percy still held elected office as Republicans. (In contrast, among the Democrats in the House when Petri took office included two future Republican senators, Phil Gramm and Richard Shelby). Now the Wisconsin congressman is a political Chingachgook, the last of his tribe remaining on Capitol Hill.

But while Petri has managed to coast against minimal opposition for years; he drew a major primary challenge Thursday when State Sen. Glenn Grothman announced he would move to Petri's district to run against the longtime incumbent.

Grothman is about as far right as Republicans come. The three-term state senator has pushed for a seven-day work week, sponsored the repeal of Wisconsin's equal pay law, sought to ban discussion of homosexuality in public schools and "declared war on Kwanzaa."

Rebuttal

CIA Strikes Back On Benghazi

The CIA’s deputy director during the Benghazi attack responded to Republican allegations Wednesday that he lied to Congress.

In a rare open hearing, Michael Morell, the deputy CIA director during the 9-11 anniversary assault in Benghazi on Wednesday, fired back at Republicans who have alleged that he cherry picked intelligence for government-wide talking points in the aftermath of the attacks.

The former deputy and acting director of the CIA has come under fire in the last month from some Republicans for allegedly lying to Congress and editing the now infamous Benghazi talking points. Despite multiple streams of intelligence to the contrary, the talking points for senior government officials in the aftermath of Benghazi and in the heat of the 2012 presidential election said the attack stemmed from demonstrations. 

At first Republicans fixed blame for the talking points on the most prominent U.S. official who read them, Susan Rice. In interviews with five major Sunday shows, Rice—who was then the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations--said the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans grew out of a demonstration against an Internet video that negatively depicted the life of Islam’s prophet, Mohammed.

In his written testimony, Morell said, “there is no truth to the allegations that the CIA or I ‘cooked the books’ with regard to what happened in Benghazi and then tried to cover this up after the fact.”

Bargaining Chip

Israeli Spy Willing To Take Deal

Jonathan Pollard, Israel's most notorious spy, would take the deal for his freedom, even if it means Israel would have to release more Palestinian prisoners in exchange.

Despite the opposition from the Anti-Defamation League and some Israeli politicians, convicted spy Jonathan Pollard would accept the commutation of his sentence as part of a larger deal to preserve the flailing peace process between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Aaron Troodler, a spokesman for the campaign to free Pollard, told The Daily Beast Tuesday, "Jonathan Pollard would not reject the commutation of his sentence. The deal that is currently being discussed is by no means a quid pro quo, rather it’s a gesture being made by the United States to Israel. The fact is this is not a tit for tat. It’s part of a larger agreement."

But that is not how other prominent Jewish groups that have supported freeing Pollard, a former civilian intelligence analyst who was sentenced to life in prison for spying on the United States on behalf of Israel, see it. In a statement released Tuesday, the Anti-Defamation League said, "While the time has come for clemency, Pollard’s release should not be intertwined with any potential resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict." Danny Danon, Israel's Deputy Defense Minister, said this week that he would resign from the government if Israel agreed to free more Palestinian prisoners, even if Obama freed Pollard.

The Daily Beast confirmed reports yesterday that the Obama administration was considering a deal to release Pollard in exchange for more concessions from Israel aimed at keeping the flailing peace process that began last year from collapse. The Israeli press reported Tuesday that Pollard waived a parole hearing this week. He would be eligible for parole next year. 

No Deal

Hill Rips Deal for Israeli Spy

The Obama administration’s proposed deal for convicted spy Jonathan Pollard is facing a bipartisan backlash from Congress.

Both the Democratic and Republican heads of the Senate Intelligence Committee are staunchly opposed to a proposal floated by the Obama administration to release convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard from prison as part of a deal for continued Israeli participation in ongoing Mideast peace talks.

Obama administration officials confirmed Monday to The Daily Beast that Pollard’s release after three decades of incarceration was being discussed between Secretary of State John Kerry and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a carrot to entice Netanyahu to agree to an extension of negotiations with the Palestinians. The current round of peace talks is scheduled to end on April 29. It was reported Tuesday that a deal was near and would include Israel releasing additional Palestinian prisoners as well as a partial halt to construction of settlements in the West Bank.

But Pollard’s potential release faces stiff opposition on Capitol Hill, where both Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein and ranking Republican Saxby Chambliss told The Daily Beast Tuesday that releasing Pollard at this stage was a bad idea and they would oppose it.

Feinstein said releasing Pollard simply in exchange for a continuation of negotiations was not appropriate, given his crimes and the lack of a real deal between the two parties.

Moving On

Dave Camp To Retire From Congress

Dave Camp, the chair of the House Ways And Means Committee announced Monday that he would be retiring at the end of his term.

Yet another senior Republican is throwing in the towel on Capitol Hill.

Dave Camp, the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee announced Monday afternoon that he would not run for re-election in 2014. The Michigan Republican who first took office in 1990 was due to step down as chair of the powerful tax-writing committee after this year and seen his efforts to push tax reform go nowhere in a gridlocked Congress. A tax reform proposal that he released in February was immediately shot down by fellow Republicans and what prospects there were for a bipartisan deal totally disappeared after Montana Democrat Max Baucus, the former chair of the Senate Finance Committee, resigned to become Ambassador to China.

It's expected that Camp will be succeeded on the Ways and Means Committee by 2012 Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, the current chair of the House Budget Committee. Ryan had long coveted the position heading Ways and Means and as chair would have an even more powerful pulpit to push his "Ryan Budget."

Camp is the second committee chair from Michigan to retire this week, follow Friday's announcement that Rep. Mike Rogers will retire from Congress to pursue a talk radio career. The outgoing Ways and Means chair's district which stretches across rural North Central Michigan, is likely to be held by the GOP but it could be competitive. Obama barely won it in 2008 and Mitt Romney won a mere 53% percent of the vote in 2012.

Gamechanger

Obama Endorses Schatz In HI-Sen

Barack Obama weighed in the competitive Democratic primary for U.S. Senate in his home state of Hawaii on Monday, backing incumbent Brian Schatz.

Barack Obama jumped into the contested Democratic primary for U.S Senate on Monday endorsing incumbent Brian Schatz, who is facing a spirited challenge from Rep. Colleen Hanabusa. 

Schatz, the Aloha State's 41-year-old former Lieutenant Governor was appointed to the Senate by Governor Neil Abercrombie in December 2012 after the death of Daniel Inouye, who had held the seat for 49 years. The appointment was controversial. Inouye had long groomed Hanabusa to replace him and it was his dying request that she be appointed. The decision opened racial fault lines within the minority-majority state; Schatz was the first white man to represent Hawaii in the Senate since the Kennedy adminstration.

While much of the state's political establishment has rallied around the more moderate Hanabusa, Schatz has received the backing of major labor and enviromental groups. In addition, in a state that is heavily reliant on federal spending, Schatz is more than two decades younger than Hanabusa and, as an incumbent, already has a leg up in accquiring crucial seniority. There also is a political divide dating to 2008. Schatz backed Obama, a native of Hawaii, while Hanabusa was a Hillary Clinton supporter.

In a statement, Obama said:

Runoff

Longest Senate Campaign Of 2014

With Mary Landrieu's re-election depending on a December runoff, Election Day may not determine control of the Senate in 2015.

In the midst of last week's Democratic panic over Nate Silver's forecast that Republicans were ever so slightly favored to take over the Senate in 2014, one bit of fine print was overlooked by all concerned---including Silver. If the battle for the Senate is as close as projected, we might not know whether Harry Reid or Mitch McConnell will be majority leader until December and not because of a recount.

One of the most tightly matched Senate races this year is the GOP attempt to defeat Democratic incumbent Mary Landrieu in Louisiana. She is matched up against two major Republican candidates, Rep. Bill Cassidy, a three-term congressman from Baton Rouge and retired Air Force Colonel Rob Maness who has been backed by a number of right-wing groups, including the Senate Conservatives Fund. But, because of Louisiana's quirky election law, Maness and Cassidy won't face each other in a GOP primary. Instead, the two Republicans, along with Landrieu and anyone else who files will be thrown into a "jungle primary" which will be held on November 4. If any candidate recieves a majority of the vote, that person is elected. However, if no one does, then the top two candidates, who would likely be Landrieu and Cassidy, will go on to a December 6 runoff.

Every Senate seat is critically important and a runoff for Landrieu's seat would get national attention even if it didn't establish which party would control the Senate . But the current political situation means that as of now, according to Silver's rankings, the winner of the seat would determine whether Democrats would have 51 votes and effective governing control of the Senate. This doesn't necessarily affect whether Democrats have a majority because of the tiebreaking vote of Vice President Joe Biden but, if the Senate is 50-50, it would still require Biden's presence on Capitol Hill on every close vote. And, if things are ever so slightly worse, the seat could determine whether Harry Reid is able to maintain his position with Biden's tiebreaking vote or if Mitch McConnell becomes majority leader by 51-49 margin.

Regardless of what happens elsewhere in November, the Louisiana Senate race is sure to be nationalized as both parties to jump into the fray. But, if current trends hold and the Pelican State's runoff could determine control of the Senate, it could produce an election for the ages. Reporters will tramp across the bayous in numbers normally only seen in Iowa cornfields and New Hampshire mill towns and national attention will focus on Louisiana for an entire month. It would be a scenario that would transform the race from a statewide campaign to a national referendum and stretch the 2014 midterms right up into the start of the 2016 primary.

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House Intel Chief To Retire

Rep. Mike Rogers will serve out the rest of his term as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. But after 2014, he says he will pursue a new career in talk radio.

Rep. Mike Rogers, the powerful Republican chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, will not seek re-election to Congress after his term expires this year.

Mike Rogers

Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg, via Getty

Rogers made the announcement Friday on the Detroit, Michigan radio station, WJR. In an interview he said he would pursue a new career after his term expires in 2015 as a radio talk show host with Cumulus Media, the second largest owner and operator of AM and FM radio stations in the United States.

Last night, The Hill reported and then withdrew its report that Rogers would be stepping down as early as Friday.

Get Ready

Putin Poised to Invade Ukraine

An Obama administration official warned Thursday that the Russian army is now fully prepared to invade eastern Ukraine if Putin decides to take further military action.

The U.S. State Department believes the Russian army is now prepared to launch an invasion of eastern Ukraine if President Vladimir Putin decides to pull the trigger, according to a senior adminstration official.

Ukraine

David Mdzinarishvili/Reuter

“At this point, they are amassed and they could go at a moment’s notice if Putin gave the go ahead,” the official said.

“Don’t do it,” the official added, in a comment directed at Putin.

On Thursday, Congress passed an important bill to fix Medicare payments without a recorded vote.

So Congress has finally found an easy way to pass controversial legislation that adds to the deficit, doing it by a voice vote when no one is paying attention.

Early Thursday afternoon, the House of Representatives passed the "doc fix" without a recorded vote, which means not one member was forced to take a stand on the legislation. This move happened with bipartisan consent as part of a deal worked out by Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer on behalf of the leadership of both parties. The bill was gavelled through just as the House came into session in a mostly empty chamber.

The doc fix is an attempt to prevent doctors who take Medicare patients from having to take a drastic pay cut. In 1997, Congress passed legislation to try to rein in reimbursements to doctors under Medicare. The formula didn't work as it was tied to economic growth, not the increase in healthcare costs. As a result, doctors would see drastic paycuts of roughly 24% and so, starting in 2003, Congress has passed a series of short term patches to so that doctors would be properly reimbursed.

While Congress has been making progress on a permanent fix to this problem, the deadline on the last fix was at the end of March. If a bill wasn't passed within days, doctors would have serious disincentives to see patients on Medicare. But there were big questions about whether the votes were there. Congressmen from both parties were loathe to do another patch and were pushing for a longterm solution as well as concern about the lack of an offset for the increase in spending.

Josh Rogin: Hope Is Not a Policy

After President Obama announced a shift in approach to the conflict in Syria, Josh Rogin joins ‘The Daily Rundown’ on MSNBC to offer his take on whether the move was too little, too late.

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