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Monday, October 23, 2017
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  • SOUTH BEND –  Mel Hall is a data guy. When he was chief executive officer of Press Ganey, the South Bend firm grew to collect data for more than half of the hospitals in the nation on consumer evaluations. Hall had this sign in his office: “In God we trust. All others bring data.” So, it’s no surprise that Hall commissioned a poll for data on political prospects in Indiana’s 2nd Congressional District before announcing his candidacy for the Democratic nomination in that district, now represented by Republican Congresswoman Jackie Walorski. Hall says the poll shows that the 10-county district is indeed Republican flavored, as intended when it was drawn in Republican-controlled redistricting. The GOP advantage in percentages, he says, could be “plus 9, plus 10, plus 11.” Of his chances of defeating Walorski, Hall concedes that strictly on the basis of the political data, “It’s not a slam dunk; it’s not likely.”
  • SOUTH BEND – President Donald Trump is doing no favors for Republicans seeking to defeat Sen. Joe Donnelly. Republican contenders are trying to tear down Donnelly’s image as a moderate Democrat, likening him to Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. And then Trump invites Donnelly to dinner at the White House, clearly identifying him as one of the moderates who might be willing to reach across the aisle for bipartisan agreement on tax reform. The president shared the thousand  island dressing and views on middle-class tax relief with Donnelly during the dinner last week. Donnelly was seated next to Trump at the affair, attended by a bipartisan group of senators, four Republicans and three Democrats. Vice President Mike Pence and other key administration officials also were there. In a telephone interview, Donnelly said the discussion “was really productive and businesslike,” not like the sharp partisanship on display at a White House luncheon to which he was invited earlier in the administration.
  • SOUTH BEND – Which party now is going the way of the Whigs? Political pundits have pontificated about that for decades, actually since 1854. That’s when the Whig Party, once one of two major parties and dominant in the 1840 presidential and congressional elections, disintegrated – split over slavery and stuck on less relevant issues. It quickly ceased to exist. Now, once more, come prognostications about which party is going the way of the Whigs. Some analysts in the press, in political science, in think tanks, in bars, say it is the Republican Party. Theory for demise? That it cannot survive the divisive and bizarre presidency of Donald Trump, who alienates so many segments of the population, including the growing number of Hispanic voters, African-Americans, the young and on and on. Also, Republicans have total control of Congress at a time when polls show total contempt for Congress. And the GOP seems mired in issues of the past instead of what voters want for the future. The Democratic Party theory for demise? That it was so inept that it lost to Trump and still concentrates more on Bernie vs. Hillary than on a unifying message to keep Trump from winning again over an inept opposition.
  • SOUTH BEND – Sen. Birch Bayh of Indiana, author of the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution on presidential succession and disability, guided it to approval by Congress in 1965 and final ratification by the states two years later. For some reason, the amendment is now in the news. Bayh, then chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on constitution amendments, said the amendment was “necessary to provide a way to deal with two problems of presidential succession.” One was frequent vice-presidential vacancies. When President John Kennedy was assassinated and Lyndon Johnson became president in 1963, it brought the 16th time the office of vice president was unoccupied. The Constitution had not provided for a way to replace a vice president between elections.
  • SOUTH BEND – When Vice President Mike Pence returned to Indiana for the unveiling of his official portrait as governor, the Democratic National Committee fired off a statement criticizing Pence for pushing health care changes that would be “devastating for Indiana.” No surprise that the DNC criticizes Pence. But the title the Democratic organization gave to Pence was a surprise. The statement began: “The presumptive 2020 presidential candidate Mike Pence returns today to his home state . . .” For Pence, that’s the unkindest cut of all. The last thing Pence wants right now is to be viewed openly as a presumed candidate for president in 2020. It’s not that Pence wouldn’t love to be the 2020 Republican presidential nominee. It’s not that he isn’t raising funds and organizing to be ready for that possibility. It’s not that a majority of Republicans in Congress wouldn’t prefer Pence over Trump as their 2020 nominee – or as their president right now. It’s that Pence must avoid being presumed openly and widespread as a candidate for president rather than again being the loyal, supportive vice-presidential running mate as Trump seeks a second term.
  • SOUTH BEND – While today I defend Republican Congressman Luke Messer, it’s about one very misguided type of attack. So, don’t interpret it as favoring Messer over Todd Rokita, the other Republican congressman seeking the party’s nomination for the U.S. Senate. Either would be a formidable opponent for Sen. Joe Donnelly, the Democrat who seeks reelection in 2018. Neither would be another Richard Mourdock, the nutty Republican nominee Donnelly defeated to win a first term. A Mourdock type could slip between Messer and Rokita to win in the Republican primary, and there are far-out prospects seeking to do so. But chances are that Donnelly won’t be that fortunate a second time. Now, to defending Messer in one area where he has been attacked in an unfair, but potentially damaging, way. Messer is criticized for relocating his family – wife and three kids – to suburban Washington after election to Congress in 2012. Good for him. Good for his family. Good for Congress.
  • SOUTH BEND – Most people can take a joke. Some can’t. Make fun of them in a punch line, and they don’t laugh, don’t smile, don’t joke back. They punch back, angry, vindictive. In “Devil’s Bargain,” new best-selling book about President Donald Trump and his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, author Joshua Green, national correspondent for Bloomberg Businessweek, poses the question of whether Trump ran for president because he couldn’t take a joke. Well, it was a series of jokes that Trump didn’t take well. It was on April 30, 2011, at the White House Correspondents’ dinner in Washington. That’s a swank event attended by elite of government, business, society and entertainment. The president traditionally attends, taking a lot of ribbing and then responding with humorous remarks of his own, usually poking fun at himself as well as at the news media and political officials and other important people in the room. Trump was in the room. He was invited to sit at the Washington Post table. He was then a TV celebrity who was toying with running for the Republican nomination to oppose President Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection. And he was getting national attention with his “birther” charges, perpetuating the fake news that Obama really wasn’t born in the United States.
  • SOUTH BEND – Whether Mike Pence will become the next president of the United States – and if so, when – is the subject of widespread speculation. Theories on when Pence might become president range from election in 2024, as President Trump is completing a second term, to a much quicker move to the Oval Office, when Trump is impeached or resigns after proclaiming he already has made America great again. Electability is debated. Some political analysts figure that Pence will be viewed as a stabilizing figure in a chaotic Trump administration, thus electable. Others see the vice president as already tainted by standing so closely with Trump as troubles mount, thus making him unelectable. Chicago Tribune columnist Steve Chapman writes that a President Pence will come soon because of Trump’s “biggest blunder,” choosing Pence as his running mate.  Chapman theorizes that most Republicans in Congress would rather deal with a President Pence, and even Democrats would prefer “a mentally stable right-wing puritan to an unpredictable, thin-skinned narcissist.” So, he says, if Trump continues strange behavior amid more startling disclosures, members of both parties will impeach and oust Trump. That “biggest mistake” by Trump, Chapman says, was picking Pence, someone well known in Congress and seen by so many as a better alternative.
  • SOUTH BEND – You know Joe. Most folks in this part of Indiana know Joe Donnelly. But millions of dollars will be spent to tell them that, really, they don’t. That’s the nature of political campaigns. And Donnelly is regarded as one of the most vulnerable Democratic senators up for reelection next year, providing extra incentive for Republicans to concentrate all out on defeating him. The main reason national political analysts list Donnelly as so vulnerable is that President Trump won Indiana by nearly 20 percentage points. Trump turned Indiana into one of the reddest of red states, with Democratic candidates running statewide having no chance. Donnelly would have had no chance if running in 2016. He has a chance in 2018, with no presidential race overshadowing all else and in view of a high approval rating. A recent poll by Morning Consult, a polling partner with Bloomberg and other major media, found Donnelly with 53% approval, just 25% disapproval.
  • SOUTH BEND –  For Democrats to win control of the House next year – possible, though not yet probable – they must upset some Republicans entrenched in “safe” seats, such as Rep. Jackie Walorski in Indiana’s 2nd District. Walorski is targeted by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. But so are many other Republican incumbents, most of them in districts in which they appear to be more vulnerable than Walorski. She is regarded as “safe” in most national evaluations. And why not? She won a third term in 2016 by nearly 62,000 votes, carrying nine of the 10 counties in the district and just barely losing in St. Joseph County, supposed bastion of Democratic strength. Walorski, however, is a target because of other past elections. She lost in her first race for Congress in 2010 to Joe Donnelly, who then was the incumbent congressman, and won in a squeaker for a first term in 2012 in a race with Brendan Mullen. Polls showed high negative perceptions of her back then.
  • SOUTH BEND – Mayor Pete Buttigieg seeks a stronger voice in national politics with the launch of a PAC to help local and state candidates around the nation to deliver a winning Democratic message. The mayor gained favorable recognition with his impressive bid for Democratic national chairman. He appears on network TV and is called on for major speeches. One is in Iowa, that first-in-the-nation caucus state. But Pete needs a different approach if he is to have real national impact. He needs a modern Twitter approach. Look what that has done for President Trump. Oh, sure, Pete has a Twitter account. But it’s not like Trump’s. Mayor Pete tweets politely about nice things in South Bend, promoting the city. Too nice.
  • SOUTH BEND - The “mean” health care bill passed by House Republicans could be a key issue in the nationally important U.S. Senate race in Indiana next year. It will be if Sen. Joe Donnelly has anything to say about it. And Donnelly, the Democratic incumbent facing a very tough race, already is saying a lot about it, calling the plan not just mean, but disastrous. The House Republican plan could be a key issue in Indiana because Donnelly’s Republican opponent is likely to be a Hoosier congressman, either Todd Rokita, 4th District, or Luke Messer, 6th District. Both are angling for the GOP senatorial nomination. And both voted for and praised passage of the House health care bill. The description of the bill as “mean” comes now from President Donald Trump. But didn’t Trump pressure House Republicans, many skeptical about what was in the bill, to pass it anyway? Yes.
  • SOUTH BEND –– The focus of the political stethoscope, for so long examining the poor health of Democrats who voted in Congress for Obamacare, shifts now to measuring the prospects for political health of Republicans who voted for Trumpcare. A health care plan, especially if complicated and pushed through without the public or even supporters in Congress really understanding the effects, can cause terrible health problems for those who vote for it. Democrats learned that. Will Republicans now learn the same lesson? There is no doubt that Trumpcare will be a major issue in the 2018 elections. Polls show it is unpopular, just as Obamacare was when Republicans hammered it and Democrats to win congressional elections. Now, ironically, just as Republicans control Congress and the presidency and can repeal it, provisions of the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, have become popular. A Gallup poll shows 53% approval of Obamacare, highest favorability ever, for the first time over 50%. So the GOP is having a difficult time figuring out how to dump it without severe health care and political health woes.
  • SOUTH BEND – Two decisions, evaluated together, have been great for Indiana. Donald Trump’s decision to select Mike Pence as his choice for vice president.The decision by Pence, when he was governor, to pick Eric Holcomb for lieutenant governor. Picking Holcomb wouldn’t have meant much if it were not for the later decision by President Trump to take Indiana’s governor as his running mate. With Pence gone from Indiana, Holcomb was elected governor. That thus far is great for Indiana. Holcomb is a better governor than Pence. And Pence is providing some stability and a calmer, more-informed voice for the administration in dealing with Congress and with the real world. He was instrumental in forcing out the dangerous Michael Flynn as national security adviser. He could be doing a better job for President Trump than he did for Indiana. Some readers won’t take kindly to any praise for Pence. There is room for criticism. But fair is fair. He does some things right. He hand-picked Holcomb to fill a lieutenant governor vacancy, putting Holcomb in position to win the Republican nomination for governor, to win the election and to be a good governor, a better governor than Pence, who had sagging approval ratings back when it appeared he would struggle for reelection as governor.
  • SOUTH BEND – What difference does it make? Sen. Joe Donnelly is the center of attention with the Senate drama over confirming Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court. Most Senate Democrats, but not Donnelly, sought to block Gorsuch. Republicans responded to refusal of enough Democrats to join in providing the required 60 votes for confirmation by blowing up that requirement with the “nuclear option.” What difference did it make that Donnelly was one of only three Democrats to vote for Gorsuch?  Well, it meant that the vote confirming Gorsuch, with one Republican absent, was 54-45 instead of 53-46. Clearly, not enough Democrats would join with the 52-member Republican majority to provide 60 votes to end a filibuster blocking Gorsuch and confirm him. It was clear also that Republican majority leader Mitch McConnell would use that “nuclear option” to end filibusters on Supreme Court nominees and allow confirmation by a simple majority. Gorsuch was going to be on the court, no matter what Donnelly did. He was no difference-maker. But what difference does it make for Donnelly as he faces re-election next year?
  • SOUTH BEND – With all the enthusiasm at South Bend’s baseball stadium and the excitement over related economic development, it will seem strange to many of the fans who so often pack the place that the stadium almost struck out. Naysayers, predicting that a stadium would be a failure, opposed it all the way to the Indiana Supreme Court and even sought criminal charges against city officials who built it. If opponents had prevailed, there would not have been a record regular season attendance of 350,803 for South Bend Cubs games last season. Instead, zero attendance. Nor would team owner Andrew Berlin be pouring millions of dollars into stadium improvements and a major mixed-use residential complex around it. He wouldn’t be here, already investing far more than the city spent to build the stadium in 1986-87. The Chicago Cubs would not have displayed their World Series championship trophy at the site. Without a stadium, the Cubs would have no affiliate here.
  • SOUTH BEND – A group of people most likely to vote for a Democrat for Congress will sponsor a town hall meeting for 2nd District Republican Congresswoman Jackie Walorski next Sunday, 3 to 5 p.m., at Century Center in downtown South Bend. Let’s consider some questions about this unusual event. Q. Is this a nice bipartisan gesture, what with some Democrats paying for a site for Jackie to meet with her constituents? A. Oh, sure. About as nice a gesture as it would be for President Trump to invite MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow on stage at one of his rallies. Q. Well, why would Democrats pay for a town hall for Jackie? A. Wait. The sponsoring group calls itself Northern Indiana Community Coalition for Health Care (NICCHC.) No letters D or E or M or O. So, it is not an official Demo function. That technicality aside, the purpose is to shame Walorski for not holding any town hall meeting for her constituents since 2013. Q. Who cares if Walorski doesn’t hold town hall meetings or news conferences and doesn’t agree to debates? A. Her supporters don’t. Her detractors do.
  • SOUTH BEND – The votes are in. And the winner is . . . Abraham Lincoln. Once again. Barack Obama finished 12th. Now, amid surprisingly high interest in an evaluation by historians of our 43 presidents, some national columnists suggest that there is hope ahead for James Buchanan, last on the list. Once again. This recent evaluation by 91 distinguished historians, presidential biographers and other experts in a diverse panel was conducted for C-SPAN. Why so much attention to a new listing of presidential rankings, not normally a hot topic? It is fueled no doubt by the political divide in America that brings intense interest in and debate over the place Obama will hold in history, and intense interest in and fears and hopes over the place Donald Trump will hold in history. There wasn’t much if any disagreement over Lincoln winning the top spot, just as he did in the prior C-SPAN survey in 2009. One columnist for Real Clear Politics, however, thought George Washington should have been No. 1. But the latest ranking had Washington second and Franklin D. Roosevelt third. That Lincoln-Washington-Roosevelt trio at the top is becoming standard in historical rankings.
  • SOUTH BEND - Jason Critchlow was re-elected without opposition as St. Joseph County Democratic chair. So, why would he want four more years in a job without a salary, where expectations are seemly unrealistically high and where losing candidates often blame the chairman, while winners say they did it all by themselves with their own political skill and personal charm?  Critchlow is coming back for more, even after St. Joseph County, that supposed bastion of Democratic strength, gave the party’s presidential nominee a margin of a mere 288 votes out of nearly 112,000 cast in 2016. He says it’s because of a passionate belief that politics is important. The election of Donald Trump proved that, he says, and gives him more incentive now, not less. “I’ve never seen anything like this,” Critchlow says of determination he sees in party ranks and with new volunteers, packed in “elbow to elbow” in meetings at the small Democratic headquarters in downtown South Bend.
        
  • SOUTH BEND – South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg raised a half million dollars in six weeks for his campaign for chair of the Democratic Party. He received widespread favorable news coverage. Then he dropped out before the first ballot. Here are some questions about that, with what Buttigieg and others say about his bid to lead the party. Q. Why did he drop out? A. “If either of the others (frontrunners Tom Perez and Keith Ellison) was going to come in shy of 200 (votes) on the first ballot, then even with a very modest total, there would be a path for us,” said Buttigieg. “When we saw that wasn’t going to happen, I certainly didn’t want to prolong it, create multiple rounds for my own benefit.” Q. Was he offered a deal? A. “Early on, people would kind of sniff around about what I really wanted, some kind of deal that would convince me to step out,” Buttigieg said. “But I think over time we made clear that I was simply in this because I thought it was the right thing for the party. So, there was no deal at the end. I didn’t do this because I needed a job at the DNC. I have a perfectly good and compelling day job right here in South Bend.”
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  • McCain rebukes Trump on draft deferments
    “One aspect of the conflict, by the way, that I will never ever countenance is that we drafted the lowest-income level of America, and the highest-income level found a doctor that would say that they had a bone spur. That is wrong. That is wrong. If we are going to ask every American to serve, every American should serve.” - U.S. Sen. John McCain, in a not-so-subtle rebuke of President Trump, who received five Vietnam War era draft deferments for bone spurs on his heel. Trump, who will need McCain’s vote on the budget and tax reform, threatened the ailing war hero last week saying, “I will fight back and it won’t be pretty.” As for the deferments, Trump said in 2016, “I had a doctor that gave me a letter — a very strong letter on the heels.” He said the condition was temporary and that it was “not a big problem, but it was enough of a problem.” 
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  • Hoosier deficit hawks turning into doves
    For years, no, make that decades, we’ve heard Hoosier Republicans from Mike Pence to Luke Messer and Todd Rokita decry the national debt and budget deficits. We’ve gone from a balanced budget when President Clinton left office in 2001 to a deficit of over $1 trillion when President George W. Bush left office in 2009. That’s deficits with a T rather than a B.

    On Wednesday, the Republican-controlled Senate passed a budget plan that will add $1.5 trillion in new debt over the next decade. There was nary a peep of criticism from the entire Indiana Republican delegation. So all these years, the deficit hawk stuff was just BS. Back in 2012, Rokita traveled with a power point presentation on the evils of deficits. "The debt hole is too great now that you can't just grow your way out," Rokita told the NWI Times. 

    In 2016, Pence explained, “I think the fact that under this past administration was of which Clinton was a part, we've almost doubled the national debt is atrocious. Indiana has balanced budgets. We cut taxes, we've made record investments in education and in infrastructure, and I still finish my term with $2 billion in the bank.”

    Last March, conservative radio host Laura Ingraham asked Vice President Pence, "Have you gone from a deficit hawk to a deficit dove?" Pence responded, "No, not in the least. Let me say the President's full budget will be out in a few weeks. The budget outline that was sent to Capitol Hill earlier this week is deficit neutral."

    This is where the “alternative facts” come into play and all the hawks become doves, charging up the federal credit card for the kids and grandkids to grapple with. - Brian A. Howey, publisher.
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