In a previously unreported development, the National Republican Senatorial Committee quietly deployed many staffers from its Washington headquarters to pull Shelby across the finish line. The senator is saturating the airwaves with commercials that portray him as one of the biggest thorns in President Obama’s side and attacking his opponent – a retired Marine captain – as “a con man.”
After the surprise primary defeat of Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) in 2014, Shelby has left nothing to chance. But the continuing success of Trump’s outsider message has given additional anxiety not just to his campaign but also to members like Kevin Brady, the House Ways and Means Committee chairman who is hustling to fend off his own primary challenge in Texas tomorrow.
“Our polls look good, but you never know,” Shelby said in a brief interview before hopping into a BMW SUV after an event here. “There’s frustration everywhere. That’s why I go all out.”
There’s something very retro and almost old-fashioned about Shelby’s pitch, which emphasizes his seniority: He opened his speech at the Calhoun County Republican Party’s annual dinner by noting that he’s seeking a sixth term. “You’ve kept me up there a while,” he told 315 party activists as they ate shrimp and grits and sipped sweet tea Friday night. “It gives us opportunities to make a difference because of the power structure. You can’t go to Washington as a congressman and a senator and expect to make a difference all at once. You have to earn your way.”
Shelby told the crowd that he currently chairs the Banking Committee but opened up about his grander ambition. “If things go right, maybe I’ll chair the Appropriations Committee. And I’ll tell you: Calhoun County would know it! And Alabama would know it,” Shelby added, drawing a standing ovation. “I’m about one step from that!” (The current Appropriations chairman is Mississippi’s Thad Cochran, who got reelected in 2014.)
Shelby is an institution here in the Heart of Dixie. Half a dozen public buildings in Alabama are named for him. Structural thank yous for directing government largesse back home stand at the University of Alabama campuses in Tuscaloosa, Birmingham and Huntsville. There’s also a Shelby Center at Auburn and a Shelby Hall at the University of South Alabama.
“People are sick of his big spending ways,” said Jonathan McConnell, the senator’s principal challenger in the primary. “He’s great at building monuments to himself, but the cost of that is crushing future generations.”
McConnell, who owns a maritime security company that defends merchant ships off the coast of Somalia, argues that Shelby is “too old” and has been in Washington “too long.” Since Antonin Scalia’s death earlier this month, McConnell has been hitting Shelby for blocking Robert Bork’s nomination to the Supreme Court in 1987 (back when he was still a Democrat).
The challenger’s strategy is to very explicitly appeal to supporters of Trump and Ted Cruz. “That’s going to be up to 70 percent of the vote,” McConnell said in an interview. “I think that’s going to help a lot actually. People are frustrated with the status quo, and that’s why you’ve seen Trump’s success. I don’t think they’re going to cancel out their vote by voting for Richard Shelby.”
McConnell said he paid for an internal poll three weeks ago that showed he was within the margin of error of forcing a runoff. But he said it is hard to break through because the local press is “afraid” to write negative stories about Shelby and national outside groups stayed on the sidelines, deterred by the nearly $20 million war chest that the incumbent had amassed before the campaign began. “They’re timid after they got burned [taking] on Thad Cochran two years ago,” he said.
Remarkably, Shelby’s message that he can bring home lots of bacon if he gets six more years in office seems to be resonating – at least with more than two dozen folks I interviewed. Several credited the senator with protecting the nearby Anniston Army Depot from closure.
“We’re a poor state. Calhoun County is a poor county. We need what he offers,” said Fred Hughes, 62, the treasurer of the county GOP and a Ben Carson supporter. “We get respect in Alabama because of him.”
Eli Henderson, the circuit clerk for Calhoun County courts, is a strong Trump supporter who was very impressed by Shelby’s speech. “Oh my God, if he gets that: Being chairman of the Appropriations Committee is probably the most important position in all of the Senate,” Henderson said. “Whoever was hanging on not voting for him, you almost got to vote for him now because that is the money stream. That got me!”
“I’m favoring Trump because I like his ideas and I want to see thing shook up,” said Greg Drummond, 59, who operates a gun range in Talladega. But he said the desire to shake things up doesn’t extend to Shelby. He said he’s “for him all the way” because his seniority argument “makes 100 percent sense.”
Not too long ago, as earmarks were going the way of the dinosaurs because of tea party opposition, this embrace of pork-barrel spending would have been hard to fathom, especially in a conservative state like Alabama. Mitch McConnell, for instance, ran ads in 2008 touting earmarks and all the ways he’d delivered for Kentucky. By 2014, facing a credible primary challenge and a base suspicious of all federal spending, the GOP leader mostly avoided boasting about projects he’d made possible.
But in some ways, Shelby’s messaging is not all that different from Trump’s: he’s a deal maker who will “win” again for Alabama. And he does not mind rubbing Senate colleagues like John McCain the wrong way.
“I think he’s going to be all right, but the problem is there’s so much anti-incumbent attitude amongst the electorate,” James W. Bennett, the chairman of the Calhoun County Republican Party, said of Shelby’s chances on Tuesday. “A lot of people aren’t thinking. They’re going to throw the baby out with the bath water just because they’re so angry.”
Bennett, who owns a lumber company, supports Marco Rubio in the presidential race, but he thinks Trump is likely to carry the state. “They’re angry, they’re lashing out, and they’re easy to get motivated and revved up,” he said of Trump’s supporters. “It kind of reminds me of George Wallace. George Wallace was very populist, and it was just all about rhetoric. The anger should be directed at Obama, but a lot of people don’t understand. They’re very impatient, and they know they’re hurting. They’re out of jobs. They’re disappointed about the direction this country is headed, the morals and everything else. There’s going to be people turning out to vote who never have. And it is not part of any voter registration drive.”
Longtime state Rep. Steve Hurst, an old friend of Shelby’s, said “there’s going to be some dent” in his share of the vote because of The Trump Effect, but he doesn’t know how much. “It’s only because new voters don’t know him,” said Hurst, who thinks Trump will be the GOP nominee. “The people want to hear something different than what they’ve heard.”
Mike Rogers, who has represented this area in Congress since 2002, warmed up the crowd for Shelby at the county GOP dinner by saying he didn’t fully appreciate how effective the senator was until he arrived in Washington. “Whether Republicans are in the majority or the minority, he is a 900-pound gorilla,” Rogers said.
In an interview later, the congressman expressed surprise at how the presidential race has played out. “There’s no telling what’s going to happen,” he said. “You never could have told me a year ago Donald Trump would be leading, even in New York. It’s just bizarre. I served with Bernie. That boy is not right. My point is the world is upside down on both sides of the aisle, and I don’t understand it.”
“But Shelby is fine,” he added. “You watch: he’ll win by 10 to 12 points. He’ll be in the 60s.”
If Rogers is wrong, and Shelby winds up in a runoff, buckle up for a lot of suddenly competitive House and Senate GOP primaries over the next few months.
-- Speaking of Alabama, Jeff Sessions (the state’s junior senator) endorsed Trump at his rally last night. It is a major blow to Cruz and his hopes for a comeback:
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:
-- SIREN: A new CNN poll shows Trump’s national lead growing. The businessman now tops his nearest competitor by more than 30 points: 49 percent back Trump, 16 percent Marco Rubio, 15 percent Ted Cruz, 10 percent Ben Carson and 6 percent John Kasich. The cable channel reports that he and Hillary Clinton are “poised to lead the nation’s two major parties in this fall’s presidential election.” From pollster Jen Agiesta: “Trump's supporters are incredibly enthusiastic about the coming election, and largely committed in their support for him. Nearly 8 in 10 say that they are more enthusiastic about voting this year than in previous elections, among Republicans who are not supporting Trump, just 39% say they are more enthusiastic than in years past. Likewise, 78% of Trump's backers say they will definitely support him vs. 22% who say they could still change their minds. Among those backing other candidates, 57% say they are committed to their chosen candidate.” And just a quarter of Republicans overall say they probably or definitely wouldn't support Trump in November. Clinton tops Sanders 55 percent to 38 percent in the new poll.
IT IS THE LATEST POLL SHOWING TRUMP AND CLINTON RUNNING AWAY WITH THEIR RACES:
-- Trump leads in Georgia and Tennessee by relatively large margins, according to NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist polls, while Cruz continues to best the GOP front-runner in his home state of Texas (39-26). In Georgia, Trump gets 30 percent support, followed by Cruz and Rubio who are tied for 23 percent each. Trump again leads the field in Tennessee, enjoying a comfortable 18 percent lead on Cruz, 40 percent to 22 percent. Rubio falls just behind at 19 percent.
-- On the Democratic side, Clinton leads Sanders by about 2-1 in all three southern states: She’s at 64 percent to his 30 percent in Georgia, and 60 percent to 34 percent in Tennessee. And in Texas, the former Secretary is up by 21 points, 59 percent to Bernie’s 38 percent.
-- But the most telling numbers on the left come from Massachusetts, where Clinton now holds an eight-point lead over Sanders, according to a new Suffolk University poll. She’s up 50-42, with a healthy amount of undecided voters still in the mix, but Sanders really needs to perform well here in order to continue as a viable candidate beyond Super Tuesday.
-- Sanders' campaign announced it has raised more than $36 million from 1.2 million individual contributions since the start of the month. Their goal is to get to $40 million by midnight.
-- Otto Warmbier, the 21-year-old University of Virginia student who has been detained in North Korea since January, “confessed” to crimes at a Pyongyang press conference. Anna Fifield: “Escorted by North Korean guards, Warmbier, reading from hand-written notes, said that he had tried to steal a political sign promoting ‘the North Korean people’s love for their system’ from his hotel. … Warmbier was surely directed to deliver the bizarre statement, in which he praised North Korea’s ‘humanitarian treatment of severe criminals,’ and said he was ‘lured by the U.S. administration to commit a crime.’”
Post Film Critic Ann Hornaday’s takeaway from the results: “Size and noise are fun, but restraint counts for something, too. … Loud, large-scale spectacles as ‘The Revenant’ and ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ might have earned the most prizes, but the taut, restrained journalism drama ‘Spotlight’ wound up taking top honors for best picture, as well as best original screenplay. In a year in which nominees were exceptionally well balanced between populist box office extravaganzas and smaller, artier films, the awards ceremony itself followed a similar seesaw pattern. Whereas the hyperkinetic road picture ‘Mad Max’ swept the proceedings early, earning Oscars for sound, production design, editing and makeup and hair, it was soon joined by ‘The Revenant’ — an ambitious survival tale of a man crawling his way back to life and revenge after a bear attack. The year’s most popular film, ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens,’ was nominated for the usual slew of technical awards reserved for the special-effects spectacles that form the spine of Hollywood’s business model (and lost them all)." See the complete list of winners here.
Watch a video with more highlights from the program:
GET SMART FAST:
- The man who fatally shot Virginia police officer Ashley Guindon during her first day on duty was an Army staff sergeant, stationed at the Pentagon. The cops were responding to a call about a possible domestic incident. (Faiz Siddiqui, Ian Shapira and Justin Jouvenal)
- A riot erupted in Salt Lake City after police shot and critically wounded a black teenager during a street altercation. Abdi Mohamed, 17, was reportedly holding a piece of a broomstick when fired upon. (Neely Tucker and Peter Holley)
- Police in Fort Wayne, Indiana, are investigating the deaths of three young Muslim men who were killed “execution style” in an abandoned house last week. (Peter Holley)
- Russian airplanes struck six towns in Syria, breaching the day-old cease fire and offering a reminder that Putin should never be trusted. (Liz Sly)
- More than two dozen tech and telecom giants, including Microsoft, Google, and Amazon, are filing court briefs in support of Apple. (Ellen Nakashima)
- SpaceX scrubbed its third attempt to launch a commercial communications satellite, halting the ignition for unclear reasons just seconds before liftoff. (USA Today)
- Islamic State militants killed dozens in Baghdad after bombing a popular market and deploying a series of car bombs, demonstrating the group’s ability to “disrupt Iraqi capital” even as it loses ground. (Loveday Morris and Mustafa Salim)
- An Indian man stabbed and killed 14 family members -- including his own daughters -- at his home in Mumbai before hanging himself. Police say the attacks appeared well-planned, and were alerted to the scene by the man’s sister and sole survivor of the rampage. (Sarah Kaplan)
- Ukraine’s pro-Western government is under attack again, after two years of democratic-minded reform failed to rid the country of its widespread oligarchical corruption. In a signal of the loss of faith, several technocrats who entered the government to help implement Western-backed reforms resigned this month. (Andrew Roth)
-- “Trump Mortgage Failed. Here’s what that says about the GOP front-runner,” by Tom Hamburger and Michael Kranish: “As economists and Wall Street traders began to sense danger ahead of the crippling housing market collapse of 2008, Trump waved away worries and offered a concrete confidence in the industry, launching Trump Mortgage LLC in 2006. ‘I think it’s a great time to start a mortgage company,’ he said. ‘The real estate market is going to be very strong for a long time to come.’ Within 18 months, Trump Mortgage was closed … As a presidential candidate a decade later, Trump says he’ll use the skills that made him successful in real estate to fix Washington. But his decision to embrace the mortgage business illustrates the dangers of a business philosophy that relies in part on a willingness to put aside the advice of experts and take risks. ‘I think the market is very good,’ Trump said in 2006, when an anchor cited a 10-percent decline in home sales. ‘It’s Trump mortgage, it’s going to be a fantastic company.’”
-- The Right to Rise autopsy you’ve been waiting for --> Strategist Mike Murphy says he only made “middle six figures” from the pro-Bush super PAC: After Bush suspended his presidential bid, many were left wondering what happened to the $100 million haul his super PAC had amassed – and how much of it was spent padding the pockets of longtime strategist Mike Murphy. Though Bush’s ambitious endeavors certainly paid dividends for the GOP admaker over the years, Murphy told Matea Gold that his salary from Right to Rise was capped in the “middle six-figures.” “Our operation was as tight as a tack,” he said. Campaign finance reports show Right to Rise paid two Murphy firms $6.35 million for media, consulting and ad placement – less than 5 percent of the $81 million total spent on TV and digital ads. Overall, $94 million of the super PAC’s $101 million went to political activities, with administrative and fundraising costs totaling about $7.6 million.
For his part, Bush does not second-guess the strategy of his super PAC or his longtime consultant. “Mike is a great talent and a loyal friend,” Jeb told Matea in his first public comments since dropping out.
-- The Supreme Court will hear its most important abortion case in decades, and it could very likely come down to the vote of Anthony Kennedy. Robert Barnes: “Behind doors at an abortion clinic, workers await word from a man in Washington about whether Texas law will force its closure. In the Texas Capitol, officials hope Kennedy will consider an alternative narrative.… The Supreme Court’s landmark abortion case, being heard on Wednesday, is being pitched to an audience of one. While Kennedy is hardly the rescuer abortion rights supporters would wish for – he has upheld every abortion restriction save one – advocates recognize he is the ‘only path to victory’ following Scalia’s death and assuming the court’s four liberal judges will vote accordingly. If challengers convince Kennedy that the Texas law, which heightens standards for abortion providers and practices, is too onerous, it would have national implications: States passed more than 250 abortion restrictions in the past five years, and halved the number of Texas abortion facilities.”
MORE ON THE REPUBLICAN RACE –
-- What dominated Sunday: Trump declined to disavow the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacy groups on national television yesterday, saying he “needed to research the groups” before doing so. Trump’s insistence that he “knows nothing” about white supremacy or former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke prompted a harsh torrent of criticism from across the political spectrum. (Jenna Johnson)
--Republican rivals piled on:
- “He knows exactly who Duke is,” said Marco Rubio at a rally Purcellville, Va., adding that Trump would be “unelectable” if he refused to disavow Duke.
- Speaking to reporters in Oklahoma City, Ted Cruz called Trump’s comments “really sad,” adding: “In my view, racism and bigotry has no place in politics. That should be common ground among Republicans [and] Democrats ... among everyone.”
- John Kasich weighed in from a town hall in Springfield, Mass. “That’s horrific, right? We don't have any place for white supremacists in America. It doesn't make any sense. He really needs to make his position clear, and he ought to do it quickly.”
--Finally last night, Trump tweeted a video of himself disavowing Duke at a Friday press conference. "As I stated at the press conference on Friday regarding David Duke — I disavow."
-- “The Republican Party’s implosion over Trump’s candidacy has arrived,” by Philip Rucker and Robert Costa: “The implosion over Trump’s candidacy that Republicans had hoped to avoid arrived so virulently this weekend that many party leaders openly questioned whether the GOP could come together before the election … The fracas comes as the presidential race enters a potentially determinative month of balloting, beginning with primaries and caucuses in 11 states on Tuesday. At a moment when Republicans had hoped to begin taking on Hillary Clinton, the GOP has instead become consumed by a crisis over its identity and core values that is almost certain to last through the July party convention, if not the rest of the year. Republican officials had imagined uniting around a nominee with a broadly appealing message to begin prosecuting the case against Clinton. Instead, they are wondering anew whether mainstream voters could accept Trump as the nominee.”
-- Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) said the Republican Party needs a “third option” should Trump win the primary nomination, formally calling for an independent conservative to challenge Trump from the right. (Paul Kane)
-- Senate Republicans are preparing to distance themselves from Trump in the general. The New York Times reported this weekend that Mitch McConnell has begun preparing senators for the prospect of a Trump nomination: “He has raised the possibility of treating Mr. Trump’s loss as a given and describing a Republican Senate to voters as a necessary check on a President Hillary Clinton … He has reminded colleagues of his own 1996 re-election campaign, when he won comfortably amid President Bill Clinton’s easy re-election. Of Mr. Trump, Mr. McConnell has said, ‘We’ll drop him like a hot rock,’ according to his colleagues."
-- Hobby Lobby founder David Green endorsed Rubio, saying that Florida Senator impressed him with his “preparation and humility.” “He gives the glory to God,” said Green. (Washington Examiner)
MORE ON THE DEMOCRATIC RACE
Battleground Texas – The Clinton campaign is focusing heavily on the Lone Star State ahead of Super Tuesday because they think winning big there will give her “a sheen of inevitability,” Abby Phillip reports from San Antonio: “African American and Latino surrogates have blanketed the state. Former president Bill Clinton has made frequent visits to Texas to support his wife, including a stop to kick off the state’s two-week early voting period in border towns including Laredo. And the candidate has locked down nearly universal support from state and local political leaders, which is a key advantage in Texas’s more rural communities. She has called upon loyalties dating back to the early 1970s, when young Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham knocked on doors registering voters for the presidential campaign of Sen. George McGovern (S.D.) in poor, heavily Latino parts of the state…”
“Sanders continues to draw passionate support from the state’s more liberal enclaves, notably Austin. While his campaign claims that he is still contesting the minority vote in Texas, the candidate has focused his time on areas where the liberal, white vote is most concentrated. On Saturday, he returned to Texas for the first time since July to rally a combined crowd of more than 17,000 in the Austin and Dallas areas. Both rallies were predominantly white, with sprinklings of younger Latinos and African Americans.”
Clinton campaigned at two predominantly African American churches in Memphis yesterday, hoping to retain her advantage among black voters.
Hillary’s new strategy is to cast herself as “the anti-Trump”: “Aides see the ‘unity’ message as a newly refined way to link the campaign’s policies and thematic elements with Clinton’s own personal and political motivations — a piece of the campaign aides have struggled with for months,” BuzzFeed’s Ruby Cramer reports.
-- Bernie Sanders offered a new defense of his ambitious agenda in Fort Collins, Colorado. Sanders’ team believes the Clinton attack that his ideas are pie-in-the-sky and have no chance of ever becoming law was a factor in his big South Carolina loss, John Wagner reports. So he tried to explain them a little better yesterday. “I believe that if you start your campaign and run on a platform calling for a full loaf, at worst you’re gonna get a half loaf,” the Vermont senator told a crowd of 6,500. “If you start your campaign talking about a need for a half loaf, you’re going to get crumbs. And the American people today do not want, do not need crumbs. They need the whole loaf.”
PIVOTING TO FLORIDA:
- Hillary’s rally tomorrow night to react to the Super Tuesday results will be in Miami. (At Stage One at Ice Palace Films Studios)
- Rubio, who must win Florida on March 15 for his campaign to go on, will also have his event in Miami. (At the Ronald Reagan Equestrian Center at Tropical Park)
- Bernie’s rally tomorrow night, meanwhile, will be in his home state of Vermont.
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
— ZIGNAL VISUAL: The trend of Rubio being suddenly the second-most mentioned GOP candidate (behind Trump and ahead of Cruz) continued through the weekend. Below are two comparison maps. The first is a state-by-state Twitter mention breakdown from Jan 1-Feb 25. The second is Feb 25-28. Whether or not Rubio's new attack dog strategy will translate into votes remains to be seen. But clearly, social media has taken notice. Via our analytics partners at Zignal Labs:
Here's how Claire McCaskill, who is fighting cancer, watched the Oscars:
Jennifer Rubin called out the RNC:
The RNC's chief strategist responded:
Newt stuck up for Trump:
Ron Fournier reacted:
Reporters uncovered Trump's father's arrest at a KKK rally in the 1920s:
Hillary Clinton retweeted Bernie Sanders in a rare sign of unity:
-- Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) stepped down from her post as vice chair of the DNC, which requires neutrality in the primary election, so she could endorse Sanders.
Susan Sarandon, a prominent Bernie supporter, thanked her:
Gabbard explained her decision in a video:
Meg Whitman, who was a national co-chair of Chris Christie's campaign, lashed out at him for backing Trump:
Here's Joe Biden getting ready for the Oscars:
Jose Andres taunted him Sunday night:
The monologue generated lots of reaction:
Check out this brilliant 2016-themed drink menu from The Townsend Austin:
HOT ON THE LEFT
Miss. governor declares April 'Confederate Heritage Month.' From the Jackson Free Press: "Two weeks before the Mississippi Legislature allowed 19 state flag bills to die in committee, Gov. Phil Bryant took out a pen and signed an official governor's proclamation, declaring the month of April 'Confederate Heritage Month' ... On Bryant's gubernatorial letterhead, the proclamation starts out by explaining that April is the appropriate month to honor Confederate heritage because it 'is the month in which the Confederate States began and ended a four-year struggle.'"
HOT ON THE RIGHT
Hillary Clinton's email account an open secret in DC before scandal broke. From the Washington Times: "Just how widely disseminated Mrs. Clinton’s address was became clear in a single 2011 message from Anne-Marie Slaughter, who appeared to include Mrs. Clinton on a message alongside Supreme Court Justices Stephen G. Breyer and Elena Kagan, reporters Jeffrey Toobin, David Brooks, Fred Hiatt and Evan Thomas, CIA Director David H. Petraeus, top Obama aide Benjamin Rhodes and former White House counsel Gregory Craig."
On the campaign trail: Candidates are all over the map before Super Tuesday. Here's the rundown:
- Trump: Radford, Va.; Valdosta, Ga.
- Rubio: Alcoa, Tenn.; Atlanta, Ga.; Conway, Ark.; Oklahoma City, Okla.; Jenks, Okla.
- Kasich: Castleton, Va.; Plymouth, Mass.
- Cruz: San Antonio, Dallas
- Clinton: Fairfax and Norfolk, Va.; Springfield, Mass.
- Sanders: Minneapolis; Milton, Mass.
At the White House: President Obama presents the Medal of Honor to Edward Byers. (Read a curtain-raiser here.) Vice President Biden returns to D.C.
On Capitol Hill: The House meets at 2 p.m. for legislative business. Nine suspension votes will take place around 6:30 p.m.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
Trump retweeted a quote by Italian dictator Benito Mussolini: “It is better to live one day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep." When asked whether he wants to be associated with a known fascist on “Meet the Press,” Trump demurred: “What difference does it make whether it’s Mussolini or somebody else?”… I want to be associated with interesting quotes.” (Jenna Johnson)
NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:
--Expect spring-like morning showers that give way to a gorgeous day! The Capital Weather Gang: “A weak front slipping through the region early this morning brings shower opportunities, mainly before 10 a.m. But then clouds should quickly decrease and the afternoon sunshine propels temperatures towards 60 degrees.”
-- A judge ordered D.C. to pay $13.2 million to a man who was wrongfully imprisoned for 28 years due to flawed hair analysis by the FBI. (Spencer S. Hsu)
-- A D.C. woman recorded her Lyft driver in a cell phone video after he refused to let her out of the car and began speeding in the opposite direction of her destination. (WJLA)
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
Finally, watch Obama speak (and sing!) at a White House tribute to Ray Charles: