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Wednesday, December 12, 2018
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  • WASHINGTON – In one of the most hard-hitting ads of the 2018 election cycle, Republican Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-2nd CD, castigates her Democratic challenger, Mel Hall, for his association with a Washington law firm that also does a substantial amount of lobbying. The ad mentions a pharmaceutical manufacturer that it asserts engaged in price gouging on a medicine that prevents premature births. “Mel Hall’s D.C. firm lobbied for this evil drug company,” the narrator says. The D.C. firm alluded to in the ad is Dentons, which has become the largest law firm in the world under the leadership of former Indiana Democratic Chairman Joe Andrew. In Dentons’ sprawling operation, you’ll find many different activities, including lobbying. But that doesn’t mean that everyone under the Dentons roof is a lobbyist. In fact, a Dentons spokeswoman said in an Oct. 8 statement said that Hall worked as a senior adviser to the firm from 2012 through 2014 after he left Press Ganey in South Bend. “During the time with our law firm, Mel was not a registered lobbyist,” the spokeswoman said. The Walorski campaign said that it is irrelevant that Hall never lobbied because it never asserted he did.
  • WASHINGTON – Vice President Mike Pence is no Gerald Ford. The former president was a moderate. That species of Republican is almost extinct. Those who are still occasionally spotted in the political wild are known as RINOs – Republican in Name Only. Pence has staked out a position on the far right, becoming not just a darling of conservative Christians but their lodestar. There’s that word again. It’s a favorite in Pence’s lexicon – and it was conspicuous in the anonymous Sept. 5 New York Times oped by a “senior administration official.” If that piece was the beginning of an attempt to pave the way for Pence to triumphantly enter the White House after a forced exit by President Donald J. Trump – either through impeachment or resignation – then Pence would do well to consider the Ford model for a vice president to succeed an ethically challenged commander-in-chief. The New York Times piece excoriated Trump’s leadership style and intellect and asserted that the writer and others in the administration are working furiously and furtively to check the president’s worst instincts and decisions before they harm the country. Recent speculation – by some Hoosier political insiders and by no less an authority than former Trump-loyalist-turned-fierce-enemy Omarosa Manigault – has centered on Pence chief of staff Nick Ayers as the author. 
  • WASHINGTON – Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly and his Republican challenger, former state Rep. Mike Braun, bust out their blue shirts on the campaign trail. But when one of them is serving in the Senate next year, he will be wearing a jacket and tie, a sartorial change depicting governance that Donnelly can use to his advantage. Braun upended his primary challengers – Reps. Todd Rokita, R-4th, and Luke Messer, R-6th – by touting his outsider status. The anti-Washington trope can be a powerful campaign theme, but there is a potentially compelling counter-argument. Once Braun comes to the capital and starts wearing a suit, he has to decide how much of a check he wants the Senate to be on President Donald Trump. So far, the indication is that he won’t provide any brake on the president. Braun is a businessman who doesn’t push back on Trump’s tariffs against steel and aluminum from the European Union, Mexico and Canada and a variety of products from China. The retaliation to these levies could hammer Hoosier farmers and manufacturers. Braun wants to scrap the Affordable Care Act and start from scratch on health care reform. Presumably, he backs the Trump administration’s decision not to defend in court provisions of the law that would prevent insurers from denying coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. Even Hoosiers critical of Obamacare likely take comfort in that part of the measure.
  • WASHINGTON – Congressional Republicans are on the verge of securing a sweeping tax-cut package, their signature political win of the first year of the Trump administration. In the process, governance in Washington has sunk to new depths. The GOP achieved victory by doing to Democrats exactly what Republicans accused Democrats of doing to them on health-care reform. They’re ramming through massive legislation with no substantive input from the other side. The House and Senate bills were introduced, voted on in their respective committees and on the floors of each chamber over the course of about a month. Republicans lamented what they called a legislative process in health-care reform that ignored regular order. But the GOP’s committee markups of tax reform were just as devoid of any real legislating as the Democrats’ mark ups of the health care bill. In each case, the opposition could raise objections, but there was no way the majority was going to allow them to make meaningful changes to the bills. In addition, Democrats will not be able to apply the leverage of a filibuster in the Senate because the tax bill in that chamber will be advanced under special rules requiring only a majority vote.
  • WASHINGTON – The Wall Street Journal recently ranked Purdue University as the fifth-best public school in the nation and the 43rd overall. That’s heady recognition but not enough to attract much attention from Hoosier politicians. In the political world, there are plenty of volatile issues for members of Congress to navigate. They step gingerly into the fray, making sure to emphasize the message of the day that will be most helpful to them. That’s what makes something like Purdue’s ranking an inviting respite. To use an analogy based on Indiana’s favorite sport, it’s a layup for a lawmaker who wants to promote good news about the state. Why not celebrate Purdue’s once again placing highly in the Journal’s ratings? But only one member of the Indiana congressional delegation said anything. Rep. Jim Banks, R-3rd CD, tweeted: “Not surprised that Purdue is thriving with @purduemitch at the helm.” Indeed, the WSJ’s ranking is another example of how Purdue is advancing since Daniels took over as president nearly five years ago. One thing Daniels hasn’t been able to change, however, is the fact that Purdue continues to be overshadowed by Indiana University when it comes to adoration from Indiana politerati, despite the fact that Daniels himself came to Purdue from the top of the Hoosier political mountain following his two terms as governor. At this point, I have to make a full disclosure: I’m a Purdue partisan. I’m a proud alum and an annual donor.
  • WASHINGTON – Business leaders may be abandoning President Donald J. Trump in the wake of his reaction to last weekend’s violence in Charlottesville, Va., but the two leading candidates in the Indiana Republican Senate primary race are sticking with him. While CEOs exited White House advisory councils after Trump on Tuesday reaffirmed his stance that there “was blame on both sides” of a demonstration by white nationalists and a counter protest that led to one death and several injuries, Reps. Luke Messer, 6th CD, and Todd Rokita, 4th CD, avoided contradicting Trump. “Hate, bigotry and racism are un-American and unacceptable,” Messer said in an email statement. “I denounce these groups in the strongest terms. To me, much of the criticism surrounding the president was unfair. President Trump denounced the violence and racism displayed in Charlottesville, and I have denounced it, too.” Like Trump, Rokita cast a wide net of blame. “Rep. Rokita believes Americans need to come together to reject all hate groups that encourage domestic terrorism and violence,” Tim Edson, a Rokita campaign spokesman, wrote in an email.
  • WASHINGTON – President Donald J. Trump’s America First approach to international relations and world leadership probably would have resonated with the late Jim Jontz. Jontz, a former Democratic Hoosier congressman, ran against then-Sen. Richard Lugar in the 1994 election. At the time, I was Lugar’s deputy press secretary and often had to help respond to Jontz’s favorite attack: Painting Lugar as someone who cared more about Peru, the country, than Peru, Ind. Or Brazil, the country, more than Brazil, Ind. Jontz ran radio and TV commercials depicting him visiting such Hoosier small towns in a red pick-up truck and asking rhetorically when Lugar had last been there. The ads turned out to be ineffective because Lugar was a regular presence in Indiana. But Jontz had the advantage of just being flip and trying to make people laugh. The bigger challenge fell to Lugar, who explained how his leadership on foreign, security and agricultural policy led to a stronger and more prosperous United States in which Hoosier workers and farmers in Peru and Brazil – the Indiana versions – could thrive. But 23 years after Hoosiers embraced Lugar’s internationalist views and sent him back to Washington in a landslide, Jontz’s rhetoric is being revived by Trump.
  • WASHINGTON  – Vice President-elect Mike Pence was an afterthought to President-elect Donald Trump during his acceptance speech early Wednesday morning. After showering supporters, campaign staff and family members with lengthy encomiums, Trump turned to walk away from the podium. Then he returned abruptly, looked to Pence and said, “Thank you, Mike Pence.” The slight was probably unintentional, even though Pence’s presence on the stage could not be overlooked. Pence was the person who introduced Trump. That awkward moment surely does not foreshadow the importance of Pence in a Trump administration. Pence provided ballast during a stormy campaign when Trump went off course, and will wind up doing the same when Trump has to work with Congress. There may not be much of a honeymoon, despite the fact that Republicans control both houses of Congress. Trump laid into many Republican lawmakers with alacrity during the campaign, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc.
  • WASHINGTON – The most damaging consequence of the Republican Party’s nomination of Donald Trump for president is that it denied that role to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. It’s not that Cruz would have beaten Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. But if Cruz had been the GOP standard bearer, it would have answered a question that will vex the party for the next four years. After Trump falls to Clinton, social conservatives will say to party leadership, such as it is: You did it again. You nominated someone who is not a true believer, and the party paid the price at the polls. Beginning on Nov. 9, they will argue that it’s their turn in 2020. They will lift up Cruz, or maybe Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, to lead the party into the battle to deny Clinton a second term. If it hadn’t been for Trump, this fundamental question about the Republican Party could have been answered this year: Is it most effective when it situates itself on the far-right of the political spectrum or when it occupies the center-right?
  • WASHINGTON –  Following his domination of the Indiana Republican primary, Donald Trump is basking in an aura of “maybe.” Now that he’s the presumptive presidential nominee of one of the two major political parties, there’s a 50-50 chance he could win the White House. By Labor Day, the “maybe” is almost surely going to become a “no” for the real estate mogul and reality TV star who offends more people than he inspires - even though he will be running against another candidate, likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, whose disapproval rating also exceeds 50 percent. But voter rejection of Trump won’t necessarily translate into down-ballot trouble for Republicans. So far, he appears to have no coattails. Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-3rd CD, was hoping to ride the anti-establishment Trump wave a win. No matter how toxic Trump makes the political environment, Republicans will certainly maintain control of the House and could hold onto the Senate. Rather than give Young breathing room, this situation presents a challenge for him and other Republican candidates this fall.
  • WASHINGTON – Following a decisive victory in the mid-term elections, congressional Republicans have to make a decision about the approach they’ll take with their new Senate control and their strengthened House majority. They can either use their power to govern or they can spend their time confronting President Barack Obama. One of their newly elected leaders, Rep. Luke Messer, R-6th CD, said the party should look to Indiana for guidance, where the GOP has occupied the governor’s mansion since 2004 and has increased its control of the state House and Senate to super majorities. “What we need more of in Washington is what we’ve seen in Indiana,” said Messer, who last week was elected chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee. “Republicans have proven that they’re a party that can govern in Indiana. They’re a party that is principled and delivers results. If what we do in Washington is follow the Indiana roadmap, we’ll be just fine.”
  • WASHINGTON  – Even if Republicans accomplish nothing else from their standoff with President Barack Obama over the federal budget and his signature health care reform law, they will have changed the way Washington works – perhaps in a manner that winds up costing them politically. Most of the time in the capital, policy debates are full of political posturing, threats and bluffs that end somewhere short of the brink. As the government shutdown heads into its third day, the GOP has pushed far past the edge of the cliff. The party is actually providing a real-time test of the hypothesis that Americans are so upset with so-called Obamacare that they will tolerate – even support – shuttering large chunks of the government and enduring potentially bad economic fallout. It’s a huge risk.
  • WASHINGTON — As President Barack Obama reels from three controversies that have mired the start of his second term in scandals that threaten to overshadow his agenda, Republicans in the Indiana congressional delegation say their party has a responsibility – even a duty – to dig into the matters.
    “The role of House Republicans is to find out what the facts are,” said Rep. Larry Bucshon, R-8th CD.
    Weeks – perhaps months -- of investigations and oversight hearings loom.
    On Wednesday, Obama accepted the resignation of the acting commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, Steven T. Miller, after the agency was found to have targeted conservative groups for greater scrutiny over applications for tax-exempt status.
    The administration on Wednesday also released emails related to the way it portrayed an attack on a U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, last September that killed the U.S. ambassador.
    In addition, the administration is grappling with fallout from the Department of Justice’s seizure of phone records of Associated Press journalists related to the news organization’s reporting about al-Qaeda activities last year.
    For now, the scandals are playing to the GOP’s strength. They can each be portrayed as the result of an overreaching government or an administration that emphasizes political expediency.
    But the GOP could do some overreaching itself, as it delves into the controversies while issues like immigration, tax reform and the economy are potentially delayed.
    In a speech on the House floor on Tuesday, Rep. Luke Messer, R-6th CD, addressed those concerns.
    “Some may call it political, but there is nothing political about keeping the oath of every member of this chamber to protect and defend the United States Constitution,” Messer said. “There is nothing political about working to ensure that none of these scandals gets swept under the rug.”
    Hoosier Republicans say they do not anticipate political backlash.
    “We’ve had good discussions in the House Republican Conference about making sure this is about facts, not politics,” Bucshon said.
    Rep. Todd Rokita, R-4th CD, said that Republicans are staying in their lane.
    “The American people have the right to know what the White House knew and when,” Rokita said. “We need to go as far as we need to go to find the full truth.”
    Two freshman GOP members of the Hoosier delegation say that their constituents support congressional probes.
    “The voters of the Fifth District do believe it is Congress’ role to provide oversight,” said Rep. Susan Brooks, R-5th CD. “This is not about beating on the president. This is about holding the executive branch accountable for the priorities it sets, for the mistakes it makes.”
    Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-2nd CD, said that she has been approached frequently by constituents who are concerned about the emerging scandals.
    “I heard about it all weekend,” Walorski said. “People are shocked. This is an overreaching of government, and that offends every American. This is not a Republican or Democratic issue. This is an American issue.”
    On Wednesday, Walorski sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew that outlined 19 questions about the IRS’ targeting of conservative groups. She demanded answers by June 15. It’s one of what is likely to be dozens of GOP requests for more information from the Obama administration.
    The pushback goes beyond his party, said Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-3rd CD.    
    “It’s not just Republicans asking questions,” Stutzman said. “The press is asking questions; the American people are asking questions.”
    Democrats are, too. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Montana and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, has scheduled a hearing next week about the IRS’ targeting of conservative groups.
    U.S. Sen. Dan Coats wants criminal penalties for IRS employees. “It smells a lot like Watergate,” Coats said.
    Rep. Todd Young, R-9th CD, said each side of the aisle have been responsible in their approach to the controversies. “Both parties seem committed to ferreting out the answers the American people deserve,” Young said. “It’s amazing how disciplined we’ve been. I’m most hopeful we can get answers from a cooperative administration.”
    One of the primary answers that will be sought is who gave the IRS directive. “Typically, priorities and strategy comes from higher levels of government,” said Brooks, a former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Indiana. “I find it hard to believe that low-level employees thought of this on their own.”
    The House GOP will have to decide on the scope of the inquiries. For instance, the chamber is poised to vote on a resolution that would establish a special committee to probe the Benghazi episode.
    Stutzman is undecided and said that the current investigatory panel is effective.
    “Our oversight committee is doing fantastic work [and] asking the right questions. [It] has been diligent and thorough,” Stutzman said.
    Over the next few months, it will have plenty to do.
    Schoeff is HPI’s Washington correspondent.
  • WASHINGTON - Republicans in the Indiana congressional delegation assert that the GOP should maintain its principles but be more open to those who disagree with some of them – echoing a recent national party overhaul plan.
    “Conservative values are good for everyone,” said U.S. Rep. Larry Bucshon, R-8th CD. “We need to [say] that in a way that doesn’t alienate anyone; that doesn’t put litmus tests on people’s views and exclude them from the Republican Party.”
    A 100-page report released last week by the Republican National Committee, “The Growth and Opportunity Project,” largely made the same point. It offered a sober, sometimes scathing, assessment of the party’s shortcomings that led to the loss of House and Senate seats in 2012.
    The document said that the party has driven away young and minority voters and that it reached “all time lows” in public perception.

    “We have become expert in how to provide ideological reinforcement to like-minded people, but devastatingly we have lost the ability to be persuasive with, or welcoming to, those who do not agree with us on every issue,” the report states.
    It goes on to recommend dozens of changes in messaging, campaign mechanics, fundraising and outreach to various demographic groups.
    U.S. Rep. Luke Messer, R-6th CD, said that the report is “very balanced and candid.” The self-analysis could help the party expand its appeal beyond the elderly and married couples. “It wouldn’t be a good growth strategy to simply wait around for the young to get old and the single to get married,” Messer said. “We need to grow our base.”
    The report by the national Republican Party reminds Messer of one that the state GOP wrote in 2002, when he was the party’s executive director and Jim Kittle was chairman. That blueprint was meant to be catalyze the “rebirth” of the state party in part by increasing African Americans and Hispanic support.
    Messer said that the effort was “modestly successful” and demonstrated that follow-up is central to party improvement. “The key is that the outreach not just be symbolic,” Messer said. “It needs to be organized, persistent and include the investment of meaningful resources over time.”
    Hispanics should be a natural constituency for Republicans, according to Messer, because by and large Latinos are family oriented, hard working and socially conservative. But they voted overwhelmingly Democratic in 2012.
    “We don’t have enough trust with that community for them even to listen to us,” Messer said.
    The GOP report acknowledges that the party also has significant ground to make up with other demographic groups that don’t include white males.
    “We can and should be the party of young people, minorities, women and anyone else who shares our belief in free enterprise and limited government,” U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks, R-4th CD, said in a statement. “My own campaign benefitted from support from many of these same groups because we took the time to have honest and real conversations about the issues they cared about. It takes hard work, but it’s a commitment our party must make.”
    The GOP’s “limited government tent ought to be big enough to include differing opinions on social issues, immigration or even tax-and-spending issues,” Messer said.
    That accommodation extends to same-sex marriage, a topic that was tackled by the Supreme Court this week. Messer emphasized that he supports traditional marriage between a man and a woman. “Our party must be big enough to include a diversity of opinions, but my view hasn’t changed,” Messer said.
    None of the lawmakers who talked to HPI suggested that Republicans should alter their policy stances.     U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-2nd CD, said that the party’s insistence on cutting federal spending resonates in north central Indiana.
    “The feeling I’m getting is that people are very glad they have a clear choice on the budget,” Walorski said.
    As she travels around the district – and goes to her local supermarket each Saturday – she said that people are less concerned about party labels than the direction that Congress is going.
    This is especially true of the women Walorski meets. They are most often concerned about the economy.
    “They want to know what I’m doing to make sure they have more money in their pockets,” Walorski said.
    That’s a general theme from all constituents.
    “They want to know what I’m doing for them,” Walorski said. “They’ll tell me I’m doing a good job or ‘I don’t agree with that.’”
    Bucshon also stressed that he’s an “honest, straight shooter” about his own political views when talking to voters but that he tries to demonstrate that they’re all his constituents.
    “We’re working on everyone’s behalf regardless of who you are,” he said.

    Schoeff is HPI’s Washington correspondent.
  • WASHINGTON – When $85 billion worth of automatic spending cuts begin to take effect on Friday, the Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center in southern Indiana will be in the firing line.
    The base will take a $36-million hit to its budget between now and Sept. 30, when the first round of the so-called sequester concludes, according to Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly. It’s part of the down payment on $1.2 trillion in cuts over 10 years that Congress agreed to in 2011 to raise the debt limit.
    Donnelly told reporters in a conference call on Wednesday that taking a whack at Crane, as well as other across-the-board sequester cuts, is a bad way to reduce the federal deficit.
    “I have been hopeful we can reach a thoughtful, smarter way to cut; that we can include revenues as well,” Donnelly said.
    The gulf between Republicans and Democrats over the sequester is illustrated by the stance taken by the GOP lawmaker whose district lies next door to Crane.
    “Of course I’m concerned about defense cuts,” Rep. Todd Young, R-9th CD, said in a recent HPI interview. “But I’m also concerned about my children and grandchildren.”’
    Taking care of the next two generations requires that the country make substantial progress in reducing annual deficits that have topped $1 trillion for the last several years and a debt that totals about $16.4 trillion, according to Young.
     “The president and Senate Democrats seem disinclined to deal with what is driving our nation’s deficit,” Young said. “We don’t have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem.”
    Young and other Republicans say that Obama got the tax increases on the wealthy that he was seeking in the New Year’s Day legislation that averted hundreds of billions of dollars of automatic tax hikes and spending cuts known as the fiscal cliff.
    That’s where Young and Donnelly diverge. Donnelly supports a Senate bill that likely will be voted down that would replace the sequester with a mix of tax increases and spending cuts. On the revenue side is the so-called Buffett Rule, which would ensure that people earning more than $1 million annually pay at least a 30 percent tax rate.
    Donnelly said that federal revenues are running at about 16 percent of the economy, while spending is at 23 percent. Spending needs to come down, but revenues also need to increase.
    “We’re still shy on that [revenue] number,” Donnelly said. “I hope people realize that.”
    That’s the interesting question. Where will the American people come down on how to tackle the budget? Over the next several weeks, we’ll have a chance to see the debate evolve in real time.
    This is not one of those issues that requires waiting until the next election to sort out. As March 1 dawns, the voters seem split on the efficacy of the sequester.
    But it may be difficult for Americans to make up their minds because much of the sequester won’t be felt until weeks or months down the road – and even then only in certain areas of the country.
    That means that Republicans and Democrats likely will enter the next budget battle – over a March 27 deadline for shutting down the government – without much evidence of who is winning.
    The situation creates an opening for bold thinking about the budget in general and, specifically, reform of social insurance programs, such as Medicare. If Republicans truly want to find out how their cut-the-deficit stance is working, they should call Obama’s bluff -- offer a big package of structural spending reforms, and see how he reacts.
    At the moment, Obama continues to ride a popularity wave that has him above 50 percent in job approval. It will be hard for Republicans to win the spending debate just by asserting that Obama has ignored that side of the equation. They have to put something creative on the table that forces him and Democrats to walk away, if they want to establish bright lines between the parties on spending.
    The other outcome is that such a move forces Democrats to come up with a counter offer that goes beyond trimming around the edges of deficit reduction. They might engage with some of their own big ideas or come up with a way to make revenue increases more palatable to Republicans.
    Ultimately, the best politics is for the sides to come together to cure the nation’s fiscal ills. If they can’t do it in March of an off-year, they never will.
    In perhaps a faint sign of such movement, Donnelly said that he is part of a group of 25 senators that has been meeting to come up with a sequester alternative. They are gathering “just as Americans, not Democrats or Republicans.”
    “Everybody agrees that there has to be a better way to do this,” Donnelly said.

    Schoeff is HPI’s Washington correspondent.
  • WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama tapped the emotional core of the gun debate during his State of the Union address, urging Congress to act quickly on stricter controls and drawing skepticism from Indiana Republicans.
    Obama’s comments about another volatile issue – immigration – were more tailored to appeal to the GOP, as he emphasized border security, “earned citizenship” and an improved legal immigration system.             
    On this topic, the president may have a better shot at winning over Hoosier lawmakers.
    It took Obama nearly an hour to get around to guns in his speech before Congress. When he did, he generated more applause and energy than in his previous several thousand words.
    Invoking recent deadly mass shootings, he asserted that a majority of Americans support strengthened background checks for gun sales and that police chiefs want to “get weapons of war and massive ammunition magazines off our streets.”
    “Each of these proposals deserves a vote in Congress,” Obama said. “The families of Newtown deserve a vote. The families of Aurora deserve a vote.”
    The entreaty did not move Hoosier Republicans.
    “What he was talking about [Tuesday] night I know wouldn’t have stopped Sandy Hook,” said Rep. Todd Rokita, R-4th CD, said in reference to the December shootings at the Connecticut elementary school.
    Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-3rd CD, worries that Obama’s approach would curb constitutional rights.
    “Let’s not punish [gun owners] because of a few crazies who have committed these heinous acts in a couple places around the country,” said Stutzman, who has introduced a measure that would allow gun-permit holders to take their weapons into other states that also have concealed-carry laws.
    The GOP message the day after Obama’s speech was to tread carefully on gun control.
    “I’m going to do everything I can to ensure people’s Second Amendment rights are not undermined by ill-conceived or hastily assembled legislation,” said Rep. Todd Young, R-9th CD.
    While Obama pushes for stronger gun laws, Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly acknowledged that the skepticism of House Republicans will limit what kind of gun controls can be put in place. He said that enhanced background checks have the best chance to draw bipartisan support.
    “My focus is on what we can pass that can make a difference… in providing additional protection for our children and families,” Donnelly said in a conference call with reporters on Wednesday.
    Hoosier Republicans want the discussion to include an exploration of mental health care as well as gang and drug violence and the effect of movies and video games.
    “The problem is the individual,” said Rep. Susan Brooks, R-5th CD. “A gun is the tool they choose to use. We have to look deeper than what the weapon is.”’
    A former U.S. attorney and deputy mayor of Indianapolis, Brooks said that more attention should be paid to initiatives that bring together law enforcement and members of the community to work on crime prevention and economic development in struggling neighborhoods.
    “These are holistic approaches, far more holistic than what we are talking about now,” Brooks said.
    Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-2nd CD, said that the best solutions to gun violence likely will percolate up from local government, citing advances South Bend has made in school security.
    “As communities wrestle with what works for them, we’ll probably see some creative ideas emerge,” Walorski said.
    Rep. Luke Messer, R-6th CD, said that improving care for the mentally ill is an area that could gain wide support.
    “I would be open to the consideration of additional funding there,” Messer said. “I speak to no one who does not believe that there’s a role for government in protecting those who cannot protect themselves.”
    Messer is disappointed in the approach that Obama is taking.
    “He has chosen the most divisive topics, including a gun ban that now virtually everyone agrees will not pass,” Messer said.
    Obama may be launching immigration reform on more solid footing, especially with his emphasis on border fortification.
    “If we address the border security issue early, I think people like myself would be willing to look at the options for the 11 million people who are here [illegally],” said Rep. Larry Bucshon, R-8th CD.
    Another area that Obama mentioned – reforming the legal immigration system and making it easier for highly skilled immigrants to stay in the country – also resonates with Republicans.
    In Rokita’s district, that would help keep in Indiana – or at least in the United States – international students earning science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) degrees at Purdue University and other schools.
    “There’s some very good common ground on the STEM side of immigration,” Rokita said.
    But like other Hoosier Republicans, Rokita wants to ensure that illegal immigrants pay a price for breaking the law before becoming legal residents.
    “A crime was committed, and the punishment has to fit the crime,” Rokita said. “The issue is: What is that punishment?”
    Stutzman is cautiously optimistic about Obama’s immigration proposals.
    “I didn’t sense any amnesty program from the president [Tuesday] night,” Stutzman said. “But we’ll see what his actions are moving forward.”
    How Republicans handle the immigration debate may determine whether the party can make inroads with Latino voters, who are rejecting the GOP as they become a more influential voting bloc.
    “Immigration reform can be part of the platform to help us invite people from other countries to support our party and become part of our party once they become legal citizens,” Brooks said.
    Bucshon said that the GOP needs to expand its appeal. “Conservative policies are good for all of our citizens,” Bucshon said. “We need to show we’re compassionate. We want legal immigration.”
    As a U.S. attorney, Brooks presided over many swearing-in ceremonies for new Americans. She calls those events among the most moving of her political career. They’re part of her motivation to streamline the legal immigration system.
    “I want to give opportunities for more people to go through that process,” Brooks said.
    Getting to that outcome will be a difficult political journey for Brooks and her colleagues.

    Schoeff is HPI’s Washington correspondent.
  • WASHINGTON - Over the two decades that I’ve been in Washington, I’ve encountered scores of students and young people who aspire to a vocation in politics. When they ask me for advice on how to navigate Capitol Hill, I always begin with the same guidance: believe in the person for whom you’re working.
    I am surprised by the number of congressional staffers who are lukewarm toward their bosses. It’s clear that they’re serving on his or her staff because they love politics and they want to be part of that compelling game in a place where the stakes can be the highest. Their member of Congress is sort of a vehicle to get them to where they want to be.
    Although that approach can satisfy a political ambition, it also can lead to a cynical place. Instead, I advise them to do what I did – join the staff of someone whose public service you believe is critical to the country.
    That’s what I experienced in my more than five years on the staff of Sen. Richard Lugar. I was hired as Lugar’s deputy press secretary in 1992 and was promoted to press secretary in 1995. I was in each position for almost exactly two-and-a-half years.
    I was fortunate enough to work for Lugar during one of the most exciting times of his career. Among other things, from 1992-97, he chaired the Senate Agriculture Committee and championed an original and creative farm bill that would fundamentally reform U.S. ag policy and reduce federal spending.
    I had a front-row seat as Lugar continued to build the Nunn-Lugar program that has eliminated thousands of weapons of mass destruction in the former Soviet Union and around the world.
    In addition, Lugar ran for president in 1995-96, when he offered the country a substantive agenda to make it safer and more prosperous. He was prescient during that campaign in warning that we must prepare for a terrorist attack on our own soil.
    Protecting Americans against our worst nightmare was always at the forefront of Lugar’s agenda. One of the most memorable moments of my career was also one of my longest days on Capitol Hill. I arrived as usual around 7:30 a.m. near the end of my time on Lugar’s staff in May 1997. Lugar, by the way, was always in the office even earlier. That particular day was the one that Lugar managed the vote on a chemical weapons treaty. I headed home just before midnight.
    Across those hours, Lugar spoke on the Senate floor and did the tough political work required to secure a victory for the weapons agreement. It wasn’t a sexy issue. In fact, despite the news releases we launched through the day, I doubt many reporters – or their audiences – were paying particularly close attention to what Lugar was doing.
    That effort, however, illuminates the essence of Lugar’s public service. He was putting everything he had into making the world safer for America. It took commitment, diligence, skill and great intellectual capacity – everything that Lugar offers to Hoosiers and all Americans every day.
    One of my favorite occasions while working for Lugar was to be invited into his office when he would tell the staff his decision on a particular issue. It would give us our marching orders for explaining his stance to reporters, constituents and colleagues.  During those moments, it was a privilege it was to see true leadership firsthand.
    I had little to do with Lugar’s success during my time on his staff. I just tried to make a positive contribution to helping communicate the importance of his work. One of the ironies of being a press secretary is that it’s best to work for a politician who doesn’t actually need one.
    The reward of working for Lugar was not what I accomplished but rather the history that I witnessed. My rule for a good job is one in which you write something and learn something every day. Both goals were satisfied during my Lugar tenure.
    One reason that my experience was such a good one is because Lugar was consistently out in front on issues. He would dissect and eloquently describe how to address them. That’s how he continues to operate at the end of his Senate career. In his valedictory speech on Dec. 12, Lugar was incisive in analyzing what has gone wrong with politics and leadership in Washington.
    “[W]e do our country a disservice, if we mistake the act of taking positions for governance,” Lugar said. “They are not the same thing. Governance requires adaptation to shifting circumstances. It often requires finding common ground with Americans who have a different vision than your own.”
    Lugar excelled in practicing that type of governance. We can only hope that his congressional colleagues listen and do likewise.
    Lugar said that he hesitated “to describe our current state as the most partisan ever.” But without Lugar in the Senate, we’re at risk of devolving further into divisiveness.
    For Lugar’s University of Indianapolis students who aspire to work in politics, I have a piece of advice: Choose a boss like your professor.

    Schoeff is HPI's Washington correspondent.
  • WASHINGTON - In September, Dave Crooks was feeling good about his chances to win the 8th CD.
    The Democrat said that an internal poll showed him within six points of incumbent Republican Rep. Larry Bucshon. Then outside money started pouring into the district to buy ads on Terre Haute and Evansville television.
    The avalanche of Super Pac spending on Bucshon’s behalf – including $750,058 from Citizens for a Working America and $114,340 from the American Action Network – was too much for Crooks to overcome.
    “We felt the earth move in a very short amount of time – and we just couldn’t climb out of it,” Crooks said in an HPI interview. “They did a great job of tying in the president and somehow connecting him at my hip. It drove my numbers down.”
    In the end, Bucshon prevailed, 53.4%-43.1% with 3.6% going to libertarian Bart Gadau.  Bucshon also bested Crooks in fundraising -- $1.2 million to $971,978, according to Federal Election Commission filings as of Oct. 17.
    “It took me more than a year-and-a-half to raise $1 million,” said Crooks, a radio executive and former state representative. “In less than a month, there was $1 million of outside money hammering away at my name and voting record.”
    Crooks also benefited from independent expenditures. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spent $516,483, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
    “The outside influence was pretty much a wash,” Bucshon said in an HPI interview.
    A cardiovascular surgeon, Bucshon said he won his first re-election because he consistently communicated to voters that he is a fiscal conservative who wants to reform social insurance programs, rein in the Environmental Protection Agency and overturn the health care reform law.
    His office also was fastidious in responding to tens of thousands of constituent inquiries.
    “We were able to get our message out over the last few years,” Bucshon said. “People appreciated that level of communication with their member [of Congress] and they awarded it with a win.”
    Crooks acknowledges he may not have won even if outside spending was not a factor. He was running in a difficult political environment, where President Barack Obama only drew 24% of the vote in Daviess County, where Crooks lives.
    “It’s tough for a Democrat to get a [ticket] split in southern Indiana, unless you’re running against someone talking about rape and God,” Crooks said.
    He was referring to Democratic Senate candidate Joe Donnelly’s victory over Republican Richard Mourdock, whose campaign tanked after he said in a debate that pregnancies resulting from rape are God’s will.
    Donnelly gave up his 2nd CD seat in order to run for the Senate. The race to replace him was the closest in the state. Republican Jackie Walorski edged Democrat Brendan Mullen, 49% - 47.6%, with libertarian Joe Ruiz taking 3.4%.
    The money competition between Walorski, a former state representative, and Mullen also was close. Walorski had raised $1.6 million and Mullen, an Iraq war veteran, had raised $1.1 million as of Oct. 17. Outside groups spent about $600,000 on each candidate.
    When every vote counts, ground operations are decisive.
    “I attribute the victory to an awesome grassroots network,” Walorski said in an HPI interview. “It’s that team effort that makes the difference in these kinds of races.”
    The day after the vote, Mullen was exhausted but proud of what he accomplished as a rookie.
    “As a first-time candidate, I’m so thrilled with what we put together,” Mullen said in an HPI interview. “We marched the ball down the field. We turned it over on downs on the one-yard line.”
    Despite the negative ads and tough rhetoric that highlighted the contest that stretched from South Bend to Wabash, Walorski suggested that voters were looking for someone who could bridge the partisan chasm in Washington.
     “Our message resonated – what we’ve done in the state of Indiana we can do at the federal level,” Walorski said. “We can work across the aisle. That has to be the attitude that prevails in Congress.”
    During the campaign, Mullen asserted that Walorski was changing her political stripes to appeal to an electorate seeking moderation. He said that Walorski, the former assistant Republican floor leader, had been a fierce partisan in the Indiana House.
    The day after the election, Mullen was conciliatory.
    “I salute and applaud Jackie Walorski and her husband Dean for wanting to serve our country,” Mullen said. “I urge her to govern in the moderate voice she campaigned on.”
    It sounds as if Mullen will be monitoring whether she does. For the time being, he plans to concentrate on raising his young family and running a business that assists Indiana National Guard members and their families.  But he’s not ruling out another run.
    “This is not the last you guys are going to see me,” Mullen said. “I’m going to continue to serve our country in one capacity or another.”
    It’s also almost certain that the 8th and 2nd districts will be competitive in 2014.
  • WASHINGTON - Democrat Dave Crooks is confident that he’s closing in on incumbent Republican Rep. Larry Bucshon in southwest Indiana’s 8th CD.
    “Big Mo is on our side,” Crooks said in an HPI interview this week. “Big Mo lives in the 8th District of Indiana. It’s nice to have my phone ring for once rather than me calling everyone else constantly.”
    Crooks asserts that internal polls demonstrate his momentum. You’ll have to take his word for it because he won’t release the numbers. “That’s privileged information,” said Crooks, a radio personality and former state representative. “I can assure you that it’s razor close.”
    Former Rep. Baron Hill penned a fundraising letter in late September making similar vague references. “I just got off the phone with Dave, and he shared his internal polling with me,” Hill wrote in a Sept. 27 letter.   “The race is very close, and Dave is within striking distance. He’s counting on us to put him over the finish line. If we don’t help, he can’t win. It’s that simple.”
    Bucshon, a heart surgeon who first won the seat in 2010 with 57% of the vote, dismisses Crooks’ bravado. “He’s creating a false story because he has a weak campaign,” Bucshon said in an HPI interview.
    Bucshon tried to combat the perception that he is vulnerable by previewing his fundraising totals for the third quarter prior to the Oct. 15 release deadline. He raised about $400,000 and has $320,000 on hand – his biggest haul of the cycle. “It shows we have a lot of momentum going into this month [before Election Day],” Bucshon said. “I’m optimistic about the level of financial support the campaign has.”
    As of June 30, Crooks had raised $742,605 with $530,191 on hand. Bucshon had raised $844,566 with $386,851 on hand.
    Crooks promises strong third quarter results. Unlike Bucshon, he’s not offering a sneak peek.
    “We’re trying to make sure everything is accurate – that the I’s are dotted and the T’s are crossed,” Crooks said.
    Crooks acknowledged that he has reduced his television buys in the Terre Haute and Evansville market. “We made some modest adjustments so I can get to the finish line,” Crooks said. He quickly adds that he is receiving outside help. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee began running an ad in support of Crooks this week.
    “We’ve made the cut for the most competitive House races, and I’m proud of that,” Crooks said. “We have more resources on the way.”
    Bucshon is also benefitting from outside help in the form of $114,000 that the American Action Network has spent on ads opposing Crooks.
    As the DCCC jumps in to try to even the score, the National Republican Congressional Committee trusts that Bucshon can hold his own.“If the DCCC wants to waste money spending on this race, we welcome that,” said Katie Prill, NRCC Midwest press secretary. “This is a Republican seat. Larry Bucshon has been campaigning tirelessly to keep it that way.”
    The DCCC ad takes aim at an issue that Bucshon has focused extensively in his campaign – health care reform. The DCCC spot criticizes Bucshon for voting in favor of the budget written by the GOP vice presidential nominee, Rep. Paul Ryan. The Ryan plan would transform current pay-for-service Medicare into a program that provides premium support for participants to buy their own insurance in the private sector or to purchase traditional Medicare.
    Republicans argue that the reforms won’t affect anyone in or near retirement while preserving Medicare for future generations. Democrats say the Ryan approach would end the Medicare guarantee. “Bucshon takes from Indiana seniors and gives to his special interest friends,” the DCCC ad states. A DCCC spokeswoman said that tying Bucshon to higher Medicare costs resonates.
    Bucshon’s votes are “not in line with where middle-class families are,” said Haley Morris, DCCC Midwest press secretary. “That’s why you see so many Hoosiers excited by Dave Crooks’ campaign to be an independent voice in Congress.”
    Medicare attacks don’t faze Bucshon. In fact, he levels his own against the health care reform law, which Bucshon said cuts $716 billion out of Medicare that would otherwise benefit current retirees. “I’m a physician, and I understand the issue very well,” Bucshon said. “I get a positive response on it. [Voters] know that we’re trying to do something to save the program.”
    Crooks has been trying to shift the focus of the campaign to the economy, arguing that Bucshon has supported trade agreements that ship Hoosier jobs overseas. “He seems to be out of sync with the typical person living in this district,” Crooks said. “He’s running like it’s 2010. The only thing he can talk about is repealing Obamacare. People want to know about jobs. They’d rather see jobs in Indiana than India.”
    Last fall, when he voted in favor of free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea, Bucshon said they would create jobs. “It is imperative that these pending trade agreements be implemented immediately to open new markets for Hoosier exports,” Bucshon said in a statement. “More exports mean more jobs.”
    Shortly after the vote, Toyota announced that it would export the Sienna model manufactured in Princeton, near Evansville, to South Korea – the first time the vehicle has been sold outside of North America. Early this year, the company announced a $400 million deal to move Highlander production to Princeton.
    Perhaps the biggest challenge for Bucshon is not one that Crooks can pose. It’s general voter disgust with Washington. “I went [to Washington] to change the direction of the country,” Bucshon said. “We have had some success doing that – changing the conversation from how we spend money to how we save money.”
    Bucshon will know in less than a month if 8th CD voters will send him back to Washington to continue the conversation. Horse Race Status: Leans Bucshon

    Schoeff is HPI's Washington correspondent.
  • WASHINGTON - Since Paul Ryan joined the Republican presidential ticket Saturday, Rep. Larry Bucshon, R-8th CD, has not run away from the Medicare issue. Instead, it looks as if he’s decided that offense is the best defense.
    “The only people who have put laws into place that have cut Medicare are Democrats, including President Obama,” Bucshon said in an HPI interview. “The Republican approach is to preserve and protect Medicare for current and future seniors.”
    The topic has become more intense in the aftermath of presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney selecting Ryan, a seven-term Wisconsin congressman, as his running mate. Overhauling Medicare is central to the budget resolutions that Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, has written the past two years.
    Under the Ryan plan, people under 55 would receive subsidies to purchase private insurance on a Medicare exchange or to enter the traditional fee-for-service program. Current coverage would not change for people in or near retirement.
    Medicare reform was a key element of House budget blueprints that Bucshon supported in 2011 and 2012 that were designed to cut federal spending.
    His opponent, former Democratic state Rep. Dave Crooks, says Bucshon’s votes put him at odds with southwest Indiana voters.
    “Every time I talk to people about Medicare, they’re troubled that he would end the Medicare guarantee and force future seniors to pay $6400 more per year to keep a basic Medicare plan,” Crooks said in an HPI interview. The cost increase estimate is from a Congressional Budget Office report.
    “He’s totally out of sync with the rest of us in the district,” Crooks said.
    Bucshon counters that congressional Democrats approved the 2010 health care law that cuts Medicare by about $716 billion over 10 years to fund measure’s reforms.
    “They’re trying to deflect criticism of what they’ve done to Medicare,” Bucshon said of Democrats. “They’re going to limit access to health care for seniors with these dramatic cuts to provider reimbursement.”
    Crooks said he would vote to overturn the Medicare cuts in the health care reform law. He emphasizes that they were included in Ryan’s House budgets.
    “When the Ryan plan was rolled out, they could have changed the numbers,” Crooks said. “Ryan left them in, and Bucshon supported it.”
    In his fiscal year 2013 budget blueprint, Ryan acknowledged maintaining the health care reform law’s Medicare reductions.
    “This budget . . . ensures that any potential savings in current law would go to shore up Medicare, not pay for new entitlements,” the outline, the Path to Prosperity, states.
    Criticism of the inclusion of the Medicare savings in the Ryan plan is “unfounded,” Bucshon said, because “budgets are based on what’s in current law.”
    House Republicans have voted multiple times to do away with the health care law altogether. Crooks said the law shouldn’t be scuttled but does need some revisions.
    “There are some positive things in there,” Crooks said. “We need to make it better.”
    In Indiana’s other competitive House race, the open seat in the 2nd CD, both candidates are hewing to their party lines. “The Romney Ryan ticket provides Americans with two very different leadership options for the next four years,” said Republican Jackie Walorski. “Americans can either choose to remain on this dismal path of slow job growth and bigger government, or vote for real change. I remain focused on improving our economy and creating jobs by repealing Obamacare, preventing tax increases, and reducing red tape on small businesses.”
    Democrat Brendan Mullen said the Ryan plan would hurt north central Indiana. “Congressman Ryan’s budget, which my opponent supports, just doesn’t make good fiscal sense for our families because it cuts Medicare that people rely on, forces folks to pay thousands more for their benefits, but keeps tax breaks for corporations that ship jobs overseas,” Mullen said. “The last thing my mother and father or any Hoosiers want or need is to take money out of the pockets of seniors when special interests are getting a tax break.”
    In terms of campaign mechanics, the Ryan selection is boosting fundraising for Crooks. “We sent out a [email] blast on Monday and got a very good response,” Crooks said. He declined to say how much was generated in donations but called it “above average.”    
    The reaction to Ryan among voters has been positive, according to Bucshon. He calls him “a Midwestern guy, a family man with strong moral character and strong conservative values I agree with.”
    It’s a good thing that Ryan’s budget has spurred a debate about the size and scope of government, according to Bucshon.
    “We need to have these big issues on the table so the American people can decide who they think has the best plan for America,” Bucshon said. “Of course, I believe we do.”

    Schoeff is HPI’s Washington correspondent.
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  • Lugar, Bayh warn Senate about emerging scandals
    "As former members of the U.S. Senate, Democrats and Republicans, it is our shared view that we are entering a dangerous period, and we feel an obligation to speak up about serious challenges to the rule of law, the Constitution, our governing institutions and our national security. We are on the eve of the conclusion of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation and the House’s commencement of investigations of the president and his administration. The likely convergence of these two events will occur at a time when simmering regional conflicts and global power confrontations continue to threaten our security, economy and geopolitical stability. It is a time, like other critical junctures in our history, when our nation must engage at every level with strategic precision and the hand of both the president and the Senate. We are at an inflection point in which the foundational principles of our democracy and our national security interests are at stake, and the rule of law and the ability of our institutions to function freely and independently must be upheld. Regardless of party affiliation, ideological leanings or geography, as former members of this great body, we urge current and future senators to be steadfast and zealous guardians of our democracy by ensuring that partisanship or self-interest not replace national interest." - 44 former U.S. Senators, including Richard Lugar and Evan Bayh from Indiana, writing a Washington Post op-ed article warning current senators about the emerging scandals involving President Trump.
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  • Weird scenes inside the White House
    The Nick Ayres saga fallout continues to be just ... weird. Vanity Fair's  Gabriel Sherman reports that last Friday, President Trump met with Ayers, Vice President Mike Pence, and out-going Chief of Staff John Kelly to finalize the CoS transition. A press release announcing Ayers’s hiring was reportedly drafted and ready to go for when Trump planned to announce Kelly’s departure on Monday. But Kelly was pressing for top aide Zachary Fuentes to get the job, Trump got pissed and leaked the story on Saturday. Ayres began getting calls from the press about his net worth estimated to be between $12 million and $54 million.

    Ayres then insisted he only wanted the job for several months. Sherman: “Trump was pissed, he was caught off guard,” a former West Wing official briefed on the talks said. By Sunday, Ayres not only bolted the Trump gig, but the Pence job, too, deciding to head back to Georgia. So by year's end, Trump and Pence will both be on their third chief in less than two years.

    This all comes amid rampant speculation that with scandal, House Democrat investigations and a tariff-bruised economy all looming over the horizon, who would want to work for a guy like Trump, where loyalty is a one-way street, allies get thrown under the bus, and careers can be tainted forever after folks wallow in Watergate or get the Kremlin Kramps. Trump and Pence had lunch on Monday. Wonder what was on the menu? Crow, perhaps?
    - Brian A. Howey, publisher.
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