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Sunday, October 25, 2020
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  • WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump’s reversal on coronavirus relief legislation might be giving Sen. Todd Young policy whiplash. Just days after exhorting his administration and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to reach an agreement on a package to boost an economy ravaged by COVID-19, Trump abruptly switched gears on Tuesday and called off negotiations. That change of heart forced Young to modify his own position on getting a recovery package through Congress before the election. He was looking forward to that outcome a few days ago and completely abandoned hope as of yesterday morning. Young’s gyrations were evident in two meetings with reporters – one on Zoom on Friday, Oct. 2, and one on a conference call on Wednesday morning. “I think we’re getting closer to an agreement between [Treasury Secretary] Steven Mnuchin on one hand, who’s representing the administration in these negotiations, and Nancy Pelosi on the other to try and reach a reasonable agreement to provide relief for our small businesses, our health care providers, our school corporations, our childcare centers – all the other entities and individuals within this ecosystem that makes our society operate,” Young told reporters on Oct. 2.
  • WASHINGTON – Despite the strong headwinds facing Senate Republicans, the leader of their campaign arm says the party can maintain control of the chamber. The coronavirus pandemic continues to run rampant. The country has been riven by racial justice protests. President Donald Trump has fallen behind presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden in national and key statewide polls. Add to the mix a stalemate between lawmakers and the White House over pandemic relief legislation. Yet Sen. Todd Young is hopeful of a good result for his party in November. Young, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, points to what he calls strong GOP candidates and the organization’s fundraising muscle as reasons for his upbeat attitude. He asserts the NRSC has broken fundraising records each month since he took over in January 2019 and could raise a record $200 million for the cycle. “The Senate majority is up for grabs at this point,” Young said.

  • WASHINGTON – Christina Hale is emphasizing bipartisanship in her attempt to win the 5th CD seat being vacated by the most bipartisan member of the Hoosier congressional delegation. Her first television ad, launched earlier this week, extols Hale’s ability to work across the aisle. The narrator says she passed 60 bills as a state legislator – all with bipartisan support. The spot said such a virtue is critical as Congress wrestles with the coronavirus outbreak. “Rebuilding will be our next test, and we can’t afford partisan bickering,” the narrator says. “We need problem solvers.” Hale is hoping that theme will strike a chord in the race to replace retiring Republican Rep. Susan Brooks, who achieved the highest score among Hoosier members of Congress in the latest Bipartisan Index. The survey, released last week and sponsored by the Lugar Center and the Georgetown University McCourt School of Public Policy, measures the extent to which lawmakers work with members of the opposite party in writing and co-sponsoring legislation. The question is whether Hale’s bet on bipartisanship will pay off at a time of extreme political polarization. Dan Diller, policy director at the Lugar Center, said the issue can gain traction. “It’s always a winner in November, especially in a district that’s proven to support a very bipartisan member, which Brooks is,” Diller said.
  • WASHINGTON — George Stuteville used to wake up in the morning worrying about what the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette  was reporting from Washington. When he was covering Capitol Hill for the Indianapolis Star  from 1992 through 2001, Stuteville competed against the Journal Gazette’sWashington correspondent, Sylvia Smith. An aggressive and thorough reporter, Smith kept close tabs on the Hoosier congressional delegation. If her readers were getting a story before the Star’s readers, it would make Stuteville’s life more difficult. “That would ruin my day,” he said. Today, no Washington-based journalist is worried about what the competition is digging up on Hoosier lawmakers. That’s because there are no longer any full-time reporters based in the capital reporting for Indiana audiences. The Indianapolis Star  lost its Washington reporter when Maureen Groppe transferred to the national desk of USA Today  last year. She had been the lone holdover from a vibrant era of Indiana regional journalism.

  • WASHINGTON, D.C. - After two weeks of public impeachment hearings in the House, there is now a distinct difference between Vice President Mike Pence and his two predecessors who most recently served alongside a president threatened with removal from office by Congress. Vice President Gerald Ford was not implicated in the Watergate break-in and subsequent cover-up that forced President Richard Nixon to resign before the House could take an impeachment vote in 1974. Vice President Al Gore had nothing to do with President Bill Clinton’s affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky that was the basis for Clinton’s impeachment in 1998.
  • 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.
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  • Beau Bayh makes campaign debut
    “The first home I went home to in Indianapolis was the Governor’s Mansion, which is proof that Democrats can win in Indiana.” - Beau Bayh, campaigning on behalf of Democrat gubernatorial nominee Woody Myers. He is the son of former governor and senator Evan Bayh. In October 1984, a young Evan Bayh barnstormed the state with underdog gubernatorial hopeful Wayne Townsend ("Go get 'em, Wayne"). When the pair appeared at the Elkhart Truth, reporter (and future Bayh) staffer Phil Schermerhorn asked Bayh, "Evan, what are you running for?"). In 1986, Evan Bayh won the secretary of state's office, then ended the GOP's 20-year gubernatorial dynasty two years later. With Hoosier Democrats barely above the Libertarians in the party pecking order (Donald Rainwater is running TV and radio ads; Myers isn't), the young Bayh's appearance will stoke up speculation that it may take a third-generation Bayh to restore Indiana Democrats to major party status.
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  • Trump nominates Judge Barrett for SCOTUS
    "The flag of the United States is still flying at half-staff in memory of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to mark the end of a great American life. Justice Ginsburg began her career at a time when women were not welcome in the legal profession. But she not only broke glass ceilings, she smashed them. Justices Scalia and Ginsburg disagreed fiercely in print without rancor in person. In both my personal and professional relationships, I strive to meet that standard. Judges are not policy makers and they must be resolute in setting aside any policy views they might hold." - 7th Circuit Judge Amy Coney Barrett, President Trump's U.S. Supreme Court nominee, on the friendly relationship between the late Associate Justices Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who she hopes to replace. President Trump said, "She is a woman of unparalleled achievement, towering intellect, sterling credentials and unyielding loyalty to the Constitution." The South Bend resident and former Notre Dame Law professor will appear in the Senate for her first confirmation hearing on Oct. 12. Republicans hope to have her confirmed prior to the Nov. 3 election. If confirmed, she would become the second Hoosier to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, joining Associate Justice Sherman Minton, who served from 1949 to 1956. Chief Justice John G. Roberts is a native of Long Beach.
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