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Opinion Morning Plum: Top Republican suffers disastrous outbreak of candor about Hillary Benghazi probes

Twitter is abuzz with the news that the man who is likely to take over as Speaker of the House suffered from an accidental outbreak of candor on national television, directly linking House GOP investigations of Benghazi to Hillary Clinton’s dropping poll numbers. Here’s the exchange between GOP Rep. Kevin McCarthy and Fox News’ Sean Hannity:

McCARTHY: Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Because she’s untrustable. But no one would have known any of that had happened, had we not…
HANNITY: I agree. I give you credit for that.

In some ways, this is not really controversial. Congress is supposed to exercise oversight when it comes to public officials, in order to achieve accountability. In saying that this has revealed Clinton to be “untrustable” and that no one would have known the details of her conduct without a probe, McCarthy is saying that Congressional oversight has revealed information about her performance as Secretary of State that the public would not otherwise have known. Whether the fruits of the Benghazi probes actually do reveal her to be untrustworthy is for the public to decide, but it’s not out of bounds for Republicans to make that case.

The problem comes in the linking of this directly to Clinton’s “dropping numbers.” It suggests that the probes are less about genuine accountability than about driving up her negatives, to use the cliche so beloved by political pros. It is reasonable to surmise that the probes at this point are more about pumping out as much fog as possible to create a general impression of wrongdoing that, hopefully, will sow inchoate public doubts about Clinton. McCarthy’s quote may not prove this to be true, but it provides more support for that theory of the case.

Notably, this comes as the Clinton camp is refining its broader strategy to deal with the ongoing email story. The other day, Bill Clinton faulted Republicans and the media for ginning up the email mess. Here’s what Hillary Clinton had to say about that on Meet the Press a few days ago:

It’s fair game for people to raise whatever they choose to raise. As he said I think in that same interview, you know, “They’re not giving this job away.” You have to get out there, you have to earn it. And that’s what I’m trying to do. And of course I take responsibility. It was my choice. It was a mistake back when I did it.
And I’m trying to do the best I can to answer all of the questions that people have. And as I said, during the ’90s, I was subjected to the same kind of barrage. And it was, it seemed to be at the time, endless. And then when I ran for the Senate, people said, “Hey, we are more concerned about what you’re going to do for us.” And I trust the voters to make that decision this time around too.

While the Clintons have a history of responding to this kind of thing with very aggressive pushback, this interview suggests Hillary is moving towards a somewhat softer-edged approach. The idea is to cast the ongoing investigations by Republicans and the media more as a natural part of the process, one Clinton needs to show she can weather to earn the public’s trust, to earn a fair hearing for her policy ideas, and, ultimately, to earn the top job — even as she continues to remind audiences of the many times Republicans and the media have put her through this before. I suspect the Clinton camp believes she is marked by both negative perceptions of her as an overly partisan brawler and by positive perceptions of her as someone who continues to fight for what she believes in, tenaciously and relentlessly, in the face of determined opposition and adversity. This approach seeks to mitigate the former and play to the latter.

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McCarthy’s quote is already being pressed into service by Clinton’s allies to delegitimize the ongoing House probes. The Clinton campaign will probably do the same, to remind people of her weathering of the 1990s trials and tribulations, though it might require some careful treading to do this while simultaneously keeping up the line that she is merely trying to earn the public’s trust by navigating the natural rigors of the process.


* GOP CANDIDATES SCRAMBLE IN FINAL DASH FOR CASH: With the GOP presidential candidates facing a deadline on filing fundraising reports tonight, CNN points out that this is a drop-dead moment for candidates who must post good showings or get winnowed out:

With some Republicans — like Scott Walker, who ran out of cash and dropped out — saying the field needs to be narrowed quickly, a poor fundraising quarter may be just the thing that pushes candidates out the door…Candidates acknowledge that the numbers next month will be parsed to winnow the field.

You would have thought having a sugar-daddy billionaire set up a Super PAC for you would offset this problem, but apparently not!

* INDUSTRY GEARS UP TO FIGHT OBAMA OZONE PLAN: Coral Davenport reports on the campaign taking shape among business and industry groups to fight the Environmental Protection Agency’s new smog rule, which would tighten the Clean Air Act’s standard for ozone pollution:

The nation’s most powerful business groups — including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Manufacturers, Business Roundtable and American Petroleum Institute — have united on an all-fronts lobbying and advertising campaign to ensure that the rule, when it comes this week, is as weak as possible….manufacturers say the high cost of installing ozone control equipment could kneecap American manufacturing and threaten jobs across the country.

Though environmentalists expect the smog rule to fall a bit short, it is another reminder of his second-term willingness to wield the Clean Air Act ambitiously even if it creates political risks.

* BOEHNER, McCONNELL AND OBAMA ENTERS INTO BUDGET TALKS: The Hill reports that conservatives are already crying betrayal over the news that GOP leaders want to negotiate a long term budget deal with Obama:

“Why the president would look to John as being able to speak on behalf of the House is, I think, a legitimate question. The man just quit. I’m not sure how much weight he continues to carry in the body,” said Rep. Mick Mulvaney, an influential member of the House Freedom Caucus. “Right now, he’s the least accountable that he’s ever been to anybody. And I don’t think it would be fair to take advantage of that circumstance to pass stuff that he wouldn’t have passed before his resignation.” 

Imagine how loud the cries of betrayal will grow when a long term deal is reached just before the voting begins in Iowa…

 * HILLARY CALLS FOR END TO ‘CADILLAC TAX’: Hillary Clinton has come out for ending Obamacare’s so-called “Cadillac tax.” Jonathan Cohn has everything you need to know about what this means in policy terms, and why it will make unions happy. That latter reason very likely explains her rationale, as Clinton is facing a primary threat from Bernie Sanders (who has also called for ending it) that has turned out to be far more credible than we expected.

* THE DEMOCRATS’ DEBATE MESS ISN’T GOING AWAY: Sam Stein and Amanda Terkel have a deep reported dive into how the Democratic National Committee found itself mired in a messy dispute over how many debates to have. They confirm that the Hillary campaign privately urged fewer debates and that the current selection of six debates represented a compromise of sorts. However, the pressure for more is not likely to ease up anytime soon.

* AND REPUBLICANS LOVE TRUMP. LATINOS, NOT SO MUCH: A new Washington Post/ABC News poll finds that while only 35 percent of Americans overall have a favorable view of Donald Trump, Republicans view him favorably by 62-34, and conservatives do the same by 55-41.

Shockingly, only 17 percent of Latinos view him favorably, versus 82 percent who view him unfavorably. Of course, it’s still unclear whether the GOP frontrunner’s affection for insulting millions of Mexican immigrants will taint the GOP and its eventual nominee, so Republicans can take solace in that.