POLLING: OBAMA'S APPROVAL RATING HITS TWO-YEAR LOW AFTER CONTROVERSIES
A new McClatchy-Marist poll shows that President Obama's approval rating is at its lowest point in nearlys two years — 41 percent — in the wake of a series of controversies that have battered his image.
The survey marks a nearly 10-point drop for Obama since April, when half of all respondents approved of the job he was doing. Now 48 percent disapprove.
The White House has been on the defensive in recent weeks, as the administration delayed Obamacare's employer mandate, questions mounted about U.S. phone and Internet surveillance programs, headlines were dominated by the pursuit of National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, and the Internal Revenue Service remained under fire for targeting conservative groups.
"Clearly six months into his second term there's been falloff across the board. It's not like one group bailed on him," said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion.
Obama's approval rating in the poll hasn't been this low since September 2011, when he received just 39 percent support.
The president is looking to change the narrative with a trio of economic speeches outside Washington. Administration officials sense an opening, with Congress leaving town for its August recess, to reshape the debate heading into feuds over the debt ceiling and more budget cuts this fall.
"When [Obama] gets away from talking about the economy, numbers have a tendency to slide," Miringoff said.
The good news for the White House? Obama still has higher job approval numbers than House Republicans, whose approval rating dropped to 22 percent.
— BRIAN HUGHES, White House Correspondent
CAPITOL HILL: HOUSE WILL MEET TOTAL OF NINE DAYS IN SEPTEMBER
There's a consensus in Washington that Congress has an enormous amount of work to do when it returns from its August recess. What is less discussed is that lawmakers have given themselves very little time to do it.
There is immigration reform. The debt ceiling. The budget. All could consume weeks of debate. But according to a schedule posted by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, the House will be in session a grand total of nine days in September — and five of those are shortened work days.
There's not much time between now and then, either. The schedule says the House will meet July 30 and 31, and all of two days in August, with one shortened.
There could be more action in October, when the House is scheduled to be in session a relatively grueling 14 days (six of them shortened). But lawmakers are set to meet just eight days in November (four shortened), and eight days in December (four shortened).
The bottom line is that it is likely that some priority will be squeezed for time. Given the House Republican leadership's determination to press for an advantageous resolution of the debt ceiling, it's possible that immigration reform — an incredibly complex issue that so far has defied solution — might get the short end of the stick.
— BYRON YORK, Chief Political Correspondent
MICHELLE OBAMA: HISPANIC KIDS OVERWEIGHT, LESS ACTIVE
First lady Michelle Obama shared her deep love of Chicago soul food with the National Council of La Raza, but warned Hispanic parents that they could be putting their kids in danger by feeding them too much.
The first lady noted that changes in the modern family life were affecting Hispanic families in America.
"Sadly all these changes and how we live and eat are having a devastating effect on our children's health," she said. "Right now nearly 40 percent Hispanic children in this country are overweight or obese - nearly 50 percent are on track to develop diabetes."
She noted that Hispanics were also worried about the safety of their children - citing it as a reason that Hispanic children weren't as active as white children.
"Compared to white parents, nearly five times more Hispanic parents report that safety is a barrier to their kids being active," Obama said. "Hispanic kids ages 9-13 are only half as likely to participate in organized physical activity outside of school."
She recalled the days in her Chicago neighborhood when her grandfather would cook barbecued ribs, cheeseburgers and milkshakes - admitting that it was easy to believe that in America, "food is love."
"While food might be love — the truth is that we are loving ourselves and our kids to death," she warned. "So we need to step up."
— CHARLIE SPIERING, Commentary Writer
HEALTH CARE: SENATOR PUSHES TO STRIP OBAMACARE FUNDING
Sen. Mike Lee is leading an effort to block legislation that would continue funding for the federal the government unless money for the new health care law is stripped from it.
Lee, R-Utah, told the Washington Examiner he and fellow Senate Republicans will write to Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., warning that they will oppose upcoming legislation to fund the federal budget unless it excludes money for the implementation or enforcement of the health care law.
"This is our last point of leverage," Lee said, pointing out that implementation of Obamacare is set to begin Jan. 1.
The move could set up a partisan showdown over keeping the government running. Funding runs out Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year, and Congress must pass a stopgap measure known as a continuing resolution, or CR, by then to continue funding for government agencies and programs.
Lee said 15 Republicans have signed his letter and he expects the number will grow. He said 65 House Republicans have pledged their support for the effort.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has not signed the letter. The No. 2 and No. 3 GOP leaders, Sens. John Cornyn of Texas and John Thune of South Dakota, have signed it, as has Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.
"We are not for a government shutdown," Lee said. "We don't want that, nor do we think Harry Reid would take the government into a shutdown posture just to defend a law that the president has already told us is not ready to be implemented."
— SUSAN FERRECHIO, Chief Congressional Correspondent
BUDGET BATTLES: OBAMA, TOP DEMS URGE SUPPORTERS TO HELP PUSH FALL AGENDA
With his second-term agenda — and his legacy — in jeopardy, President Obama tried to rally donors and volunteers to help him control the late summertime message when Congress is out of town for its August break.
Obama, as well as top Democratic leaders, exhorted those gathered for an event sponsored by a nonprofit created from his campaign committee to ratchet up the pressure in the coming months to give him leverage in the tough fights ahead — on immigration, budget and spending priorities, and the roll-out of his health care law.
"We've got to get folks activated and involved," he told the group of party faithful gathered at Washington's Mandarin Oriental Hotel.
Even though he was re-elected, supporters shouldn't get complacent, Obama implored. He said he still desperately needs their help and noted, that even though he is president, his power his limited in the deeply divided capital.
"Naturally, it's not going to be as full of razzmatazz as the first campaign," he said. "First of all, we don't have a billion dollars to spend. Nonetheless, in some ways this stuff is more important."
The Senate's top Democrat, Harry Reid of Nevada, pressed supporters to continue the fight.
And House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told the audience to make sure make their voice was heard and call their congressmen, and encourage their friends to do so too.
"Nothing is more eloquent to a member of Congress than the voice of his or her own constituent," she said.
— SUSAN CRABTREE, White House Correspondent
TRANSPORTATION: MONTHS LATE, CALIFORNIA STILL HASN'T BOUGHT LAND FOR HIGH-SPEED RAIL
California Gov. Jerry Brown may have promised on Jan. 18, 2012, that the Golden State would "begin initial construction" on the state's high-speed rail project "before the year is out," but 18 months later the state's High-Speed Rail Authority still has not closed on a single piece of property needed to begin the project.
More than 356 parcels of land must be acquired to complete just the first 29 miles of track between Fresno and Madera, but according to project press secretary Lisa Marie Alley, while a "couple dozen" written offers have been accepted, not a single property has been closed on.
The federal government already gave California $3.5 billion for the project in September, and the state has approved another $8.6 billion in debt, but California has no idea where it will get the rest of the money for the $69 billion project.
The project has until Sept. 30, 2017, to spend the federal government's $3.5 billion. If the money is still unspent by that time, California must give it back to Washington.
Alley stressed that the land purchased so far is not contiguous, but instead consists of "sporadic" plots spread throughout the entire project. "We are on the right track," Alley said.
— CONN CARROLL, Senior Commentary Writer
FITNESS: PAST RECESSIONS BOOSTED HEALTH, BUT NOT THE LAST ONE
The lingering jobs crisis following the 2008 financial crash lacks one of the few silver linings associated with previous recessions: people living healthier lifestyles.
Past studies showing a link between downturns and improved health have pointed to the possibility that work itself is stressful, and that less time at work brought on by a stalling economy could mean fewer stress-related illnesses. Jobless workers could spend their extra time on exercise or other healthy activities. Less money in consumers' pockets also generally translates to less drinking.
But a new study by the National Bureau of Economic Research, that examines the relationship between state employment rates and a range of health indicators and healthy behaviors, shows that there have been no health benefits associated with the most recent recession and even health declines for certain subgroups, including Hispanics.
The authors, Erdal Tekin and Karen Jean Minyard of Georgia State University with Chandler McClellan of NBER, suggest that the severity and length of the recent downturn have set it apart from other posWorld War II recessions in terms of the impact on Americans' health.
The result is that there has been no population-wide increase in health measures that followed other recessions. The only group who exercised more in the wake of increased joblessness was white males. The authors found that people with only high school diplomas fared worse in terms of physical health than those with college degrees. More highly educated people, however, showed more signs of mental distress, a finding the authors suggest shows the "bigger mental toll" of job loss for those who have higher earnings potential.
— JOSEPH LAWLER, Economics Writer
2016 ELECTION: PELOSI HAPPY WITH DEMOCRATS' PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFULS
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Democrats have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to who will run for president in 2016.
While the California Democrat told MSNBC she hopes former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will run for the White House in three years, she added later that Vice President Joe Biden also would make a splendid candidate.
"They're both wonderful. Aren't we blessed with such a great supply of riches?" Pelosi said during her weekly briefing with reporters at the Capitol.
"As far as 2016 is concerned, yes, I've been proud of every name that has been mentioned on the Democratic side. I think that we'll have a great field of candidates from whom to choose a president and a vice president. And I feel very confident that we will have a Democratic victory at that time."
As for who she'd like to see on the Republican ticket in the 2016 presidential race, Pelosi said she'll reserve comment until after the 2014 mid-term elections.
"Let's just get through 2013 and do the job for the American people," she said. "But I can just image that one day after the 2014 [midterm] elections that this will all take off. Perhaps we'll talk then."
— SEAN LENGELL, Congressional Correspondent
HUMAN RESOURCES: RAND PAUL STAFFER RESIGNS AMID FUROR OVER NEO-CONFEDERATE SYMPATHIES
A staffer for Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., has resigned in the wake of a controversy following the exposure of his long record of outrageous neo-Confederate statements as a radio shock jock and pundit in South Carolina.
Jack Hunter told the Daily Caller's Jim Antle, "that he wanted to avoid being a distraction for Paul and to clear his own name, which he argues is now unfairly associated with racism."
The Free Beacon's Alana Goodman drew attention to the colorful background of Jack Hunter, who worked for Ron Paul before helping to write Rand Paul's book and then signing on to do social media work for the Kentucky senator. Known by his moniker "The Southern Avenger," Hunter was a South Carolina-based radio shock jock and commentator in the 2000s who wore a pro-wrestling style mask emblazoned with the Confederate flag, advocated secession, was chairman of the League of the South, and celebrated the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Goodman also revealed a series of outrageous clips from Hunter's radio show, including one in which he compared Lincoln to Adolf Hitler.
— PHILIP KLEIN, Senior Commentary Writer
2014 CAMPAIGN: McCAIN BACKS OVER CHENEY IN WYOMING PRIMARY
Sen. John McCain said he will "absolutely" support colleague Sen. Mike Enzi over Liz Cheney in Wyoming's Senate race.
"I'm pleased to see that most people who have served with Mike Enzi have expressed our strong support, because he's a good, solid, hardworking workhorse," McCain said on CNN's "State of the Union." "In the old line about showhorses and workhorses, Mike Enzi is the epitome of a workhorse in the Senate."
Indeed, Enzi's Senate colleagues have so far come out in strong support of the lawmaker, who faces a Republican primary challenge from Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney. In the immediate aftermath of Cheney's announcement, Sen. John Barrasso, also a Wyoming Republican, said he would back Enzi; and Sen. Jerry Moran, who leads the National Republican Senatorial Committee, affirmed the committee's support the incumbent.
In the first Harper poll released after Cheney's announcement this week, 55 percent backed Enzi and 21 percent supported Cheney.
— REBECCA BERG, Political Correspondent
MILITARY: NAVY RESTRICTS ALCOHOL SALES TO COMBAT SEXUAL ASSAULT PROBLEM
U.S. Navy officials have decided to restrict the sale of alcohol, and even the placement of alcohol within stores on base, as part of an effort to prevent sexual assaults in the military.
"[W]e are finding that somewhere between six out of 10 and seven out of 10 sexual assaults, as reported, involve alcohol," Admiral Jonathan Greenert, the chief of naval operations, told reporters at the Pentagon. "And they're — well, they're alcohol-fueled."
In examining mini-marts on bases, Navy officials took note of the "very extensive" hours when alcohol sales were allowed, until early in the morning, and the prominent display of alcohol at the front of the stores, he said.
"[W]hat message are we sending here when we do that? So I said, look, let's do the mainstream here. They're responsible people, but we don't need to be pushing this or perceiving to push it. And that's what it's really about."
The Navy will also implement "roving patrols" on base. "[I]t's about ensuring that we have a safe environment for our people that they deserve and a good command climate," Greenert said.
— JOEL GEHRKE, Commentary Writer
SCANDALS: COLBERT DROPS HAMMER ON SPITZER
"Given a position of this responsibility, shouldn't the job of comptroller go to someone who has shown some modicum of 'self-comptrol'?" joked Stephen Colbert during an interview with former disgraced New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who is now running for New York City comptroller.
During the interview, Colbert hinted to Spitzer's history of patronizing prostitutes, a scandal that led to his resignation as governor.
Colbert also brought up Spitzer's past, referring to the political comebacks of Anthony Weiner and Mark Sanford, who had their own scandals.
"It seems that voters are more forgiving than they used to be - do you think that signals progress for our country or the slow decay of our moral values?" he asked.
As the crowd laughed, Spitzer also chuckled and responded, "Wow. That's a tough one."
"This ain't Charlie Rose, motherf--r," Colbert replied, before letting Spitzer leave the show with the question unanswered.
After shaking Spitzer's hand, Colbert added, "Come back and tell me."
— CHARLIE SPIERING, Commentary Writer
TERRORISTS: GUANTANAMO DETAINEES OVERWEIGHT, INHOFE SAYS
Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, says a major problem at Guantanamo Bay is that detainees are overweight.
While questioning Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, Inhofe argued that detainees were treated very well.
"One of the big problems they have with the detainees down there is [they are] overweight -- they're eating better than they've ever eaten in their lives. They have better medical attention. They have tests run that they've never even heard of before," Inhofe said.
The comment occurred in the context of an exchange in which Inhofe was arguing that the Guantanamo Bay detention camp should remain open, saying that it was a matter of "great frustration" to him.
"I've often looked at Gitmo as one of the few good deals we have in this country," Inhofe said, citing the low cost for the land.
— TIM MAK, Congressional Correspondent