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Monday, October 21, 2019
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  • WASHINGTON  — When I would return home to Fort Wayne from Washington while working for Sen. Richard Lugar, I would frequently find myself talking politics the moment I mentioned my boss. Folks would express frustration with what was happening in the capital and, occasionally, blame it on the Republican Party. I politely reminded them that I worked for Lugar, not the GOP. During his 36 years in the Senate, Lugar was a Republican and conservative stalwart. He voted with President Ronald Reagan more than 95% of the time and was a reliable ally of each Republican occupant of the White House as well as GOP Senate leaders. But Lugar was a brilliant and independent thinker who would defy his party – and political convention – when it was necessary to achieve policy breakthroughs to benefit the country and the world. Despite his strong backing of Reagan, Lugar veered away from him on the issue of applying sanctions on the government of South Africa. Lugar played a key role in enacting sanctions, which ended apartheid.  He drew Republican ire when, as chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, he pursued reforms of the Department of Agriculture that included streamlining its sprawling field office structure. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Ia., decried Lugar as a “Lizzie Borden.” I remember Lugar’s uphill battle against USDA bloat because I was his Senate press secretary at the time.
  • WASHINGTON  — As the Democratic presidential field starts to form, the easiest thing to do is count out South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Even though we’re at a moment of peak volatility in American politics, it’s hard to imagine that a 37-year-old, openly gay man who is married to another man can achieve something that’s never been accomplished – going directly from city hall to the White House. But before dismissing Buttigieg as a novelty who will never break single digits in the polls – if he can even make it to that lofty level – consider what he uniquely offers to a party that was stunned to lose the Oval Office to Donald J. Trump a little more than two years ago. Those traits were on display last Sunday in Washington at the bookstore Politics and Prose, where Buttigieg introduced his new book, “Shortest Way Home,” which chronicles what he’s learned as the chief executive of a midwestern city whose turnaround he helped engineer. The book cracked the New York Times best seller list this week at No. 11. He brings his book tour to Indianapolis on Sunday, with a 2 p.m. appearance at IUPUI's Hine Hall Auditorium. Here's what you'll likely learn from Mayor Pete:

  • WASHINGTON – Vice President Mike Pence is the Hoosier with the highest profile in Washington, but in 2019, the most influential person from Indiana likely will be Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. Just before Thanksgiving, Roberts had an enough-is-enough moment when it came to President Donald Trump’s repeated bashing of federal judges who hand down decisions that contradict his policies. “We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges,” Roberts said in a Nov. 21 statement. “What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them.” Trump wielded the cudgel against the federal bench again late Wednesday night, as the White House released a statement criticizing a judge who struck down a Trump administration asylum rule. Roberts is the steward of an institution that is still willing and able to provide a check and balance to Trump. The Republican-led Congress didn’t offer any resistance during the first half of Trump’s term until late this year, when the Senate rebuked him by passing a resolution implicating Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

  • 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.
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  • Adm. McRaven: The Republic is under attack from the President
    “The America that they believed in was under attack, not from without, but from within. These men and women, of all political persuasions, have seen the assaults on our institutions: on the intelligence and law enforcement community, the State Department and the press. They have seen our leaders stand beside despots and strongmen, preferring their government narrative to our own. They have seen us abandon our allies and have heard the shouts of betrayal from the battlefield. As I stood on the parade field at Fort Bragg, one retired four-star general, grabbed my arm, shook me and shouted, ‘I don’t like the Democrats, but Trump is destroying the Republic!’ If we don’t care about our values, if we don’t care about duty and honor, if we don’t help the weak and stand up against oppression and injustice — what will happen to the Kurds, the Iraqis, the Afghans, the Syrians, the Rohingyas, the South Sudanese and the millions of people under the boot of tyranny or left abandoned by their failing states? If our promises are meaningless, how will our allies ever trust us? If we can’t have faith in our nation’s principles, why would the men and women of this nation join the military? And if they don’t join, who will protect us? If we are not the champions of the good and the right, then who will follow us? And if no one follows us — where will the world end up? President Trump seems to believe that these qualities are unimportant or show weakness. He is wrong." - Admiral William H. McRaven, former commander of the United States Special Operations Command, in a New York Times op-ed titled "Our Republic Is Under Attack From the President: If President Trump doesn’t demonstrate the leadership that America needs, then it is time for a new person in the Oval Office." 
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  • Gen. Votel on what Kurd fighters did for the U.S.
    “Over four years, the SDF freed tens of thousands of square miles and millions of people from the grip of ISIS. Throughout the fight, it sustained nearly 11,000 casualties. By comparison, six U.S. service members, as well as two civilians, have been killed in the anti-ISIS campaign.” - U.S. Army Gen. Joseph Votel, who served as commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, on the role the Syrian Democratic Forces, made up mostly of Kurdish fighters. The United States has abandoned the SDF, which is now under an ethnic cleansing assault from Turkey after President Trump gave the green light for the incursion on Sunday.
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