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The Daily 202: Charleston reminds “Yes we can” Obama of his limited power

President Obama reacts to the shooting deaths of nine people at an African-American church in Charleston during an appearance in the White House briefing room. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst


— “When I ran in 2008, I in fact did not say I would fix it. I said we could fix it. I didn’t say, ‘Yes, I can.’ I said, ‘Yes, we can.'” That was Barack Obama last night at a fundraiser in Beverly Hills. Exasperated, frustrated and wary. Seven years in, it is now evident to everyone — including him — that he has not transformed Washington. The South Carolina tragedy offers the latest potent reminder about the limits of presidential power. Responding to the heinous murder of nine parishioners at a Bible study group, Obama said at the White House yesterday morning that, even though he would love to do something on guns, he recognizes “the politics in this town” and suggested that the country will need to “reckon” with the issue again “at some point” after he leaves office. No one needs to remind him of how much capital he invested in trying to pass background checks through the Senate during the first months of his second term, after a massacre at an elementary school, only to come up with nothing. It is a bow to reality and pragmatism.

— The candidates running to succeed Obama, meanwhile, responded in ways that showed how differently they would approach such crises. The attack at a black church quickly generated a national conversation about religion, guns and race – three of the most sensitive issues in American life. Rick Santorum called it “an assault on our religious liberty.” Rand Paul described it as an act of evil that government cannot solve. Hillary Clinton pledged not to “forsake those who have been victimized by gun violence” and “to find answers together,” what Sean Sullivan describes in his rundown of reactions as “a general and cautious message in keeping with her careful political strategy.” Interestingly, Bernie Sanders’ statement focused on the incident as a “reminder of the ugly stain of racism that still taints our nation” and made no mention of guns. Though he identifies as a socialist, Sanders hails from a state where gun rights are seen as sacrosanct.

— Exclusive: The American Civil Liberties Union, frustrated by suffocating gridlock in Washington and looking to increase its effectiveness, is building a big political advocacy program for 2016 and beyond. The group has raised or received commitments for $80 million to back up a 501(c)(4) and will announce later today that veteran Democratic operative Karin Johanson has been hired as its first ever national political director. Johanson, currently the campaign manager for the Coalition to Stop Fast Track, was executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee when the party took control of the House in 2006. She will run the ACLU’s D.C. office and spearhead several ballot initiative campaigns in 2016, focused on criminal justice reform and banning discrimination against the LGBT community.

ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero tells The Daily 202 that he wants the 95-year-old group to be as well known for its political work as its use of the courts. Trying to take advantage of the offices they already have in each of the 50 states, they will integrate federal lobbying and state advocacy under one umbrella. “It has become increasingly clear that we can’t rely upon litigation or old-style lobbying,” he said. “Sitting down with legislators, walking through the pros and cons of a particular bill and trying to cajole them to do the right thing increasingly draws limited dividends. The place to light a fire under them is in their home district.”

— The ACLU will soon pick three states with high incarceration rates and sponsor ballot initiatives next year that would lead to sentencing reform. Five states are being considered, but they’ll pick just three so that the group can afford to go all-in and score tangible victories. Criminal justice is a hot issue right now, with backing from liberals, libertarians like the billionaire Koch brothers and fiscal conservatives. “This is not a reform effort focused on the Northeast liberal corridor,” said Romero. “We’re going to the tough states, the Deep South.” Read more here.


— Hillary said she would vote against fast-track authority if she was still in the Senate. “At this point, probably not because it’s a process vote and I don’t want to say it’s the same as TPP,” Clinton told Nevada journalist Jon Ralston in a televised interview. “Right now, I’m focused on making sure we get trade adjustment assistance and I certainly would not vote for it unless I were absolutely confident we would get trade adjustment assistance.” The House voted 218-208 yesterday to give Obama and the next president Trade Promotion Authority (28 Democrats voted yes, and 50 Republicans voted no), as Nancy Pelosi said she does not see a path for Trade Adjustment Assistance.

— Delaware decriminalized marijuana: The state Senate passed a bill to decriminalize the possession and private use of up to an ounce of marijuana, and Democratic Gov. Jack Markell immediately signed it into law. “Criminal penalties for simple possession will be replaced with a $100 civil fine,” the Wilmington News Journal reports. “No Republican voted in favor of the legislation in either the House or the Senate … Nineteen other states and the District of Columbia have stopped charging citizens criminally for possessing small amounts of marijuana.”

— George W. Bush credited his role as a father with spurring him to quit drinking as he accepted a “Father of the Year” award in New York last night.


  1. The breach of the Office of Personnel Management’s security-clearance computer system took place a year ago, meaning that the Chinese government intruders have had access to personnel data for way longer than previously thought.
  2. “Negotiators appear increasingly likely” to finalize an Iranian nuclear agreement, Reuters reports: “Driving the cautious optimism, diplomats say, is not so much progress made in overcoming sticking points as the intense political pressure on the U.S. and Iranian delegations to reach a deal.”
  3. Freedom Partners, the funding arm of the political network backed by the Koch brothers, sent a 25-question survey to every 2016 candidate yesterday asking for specifics about everything from how they would prosecute foreign policy to the war on drugs, with Renewable Fuel Standard and the Export-Import bank. The full questionnaire, which they want back by July 18, is here.
  4. Former White House executive chef Walter Scheib, who worked for Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, has been reported missing in New Mexico’s rugged Sangre de Cristo Mountains, where he was last seen setting out for a hike on Saturday.


  1. Marco Rubio canceled a fundraiser in Sarasota, Fla., that was scheduled for last night because “his local supporters had trouble lining up enough high-dollar donors to make the visit worthwhile for the candidate,” an eyebrow-raising development in the senator’s home state with only 11 days remaining before the end of his first fundraising quarter as a presidential candidate. (Herald-Tribune)
  2. Matt Kibbe has left the tea party group FreedomWorks, where he was CEO, to build a pro-Rand Paul super PAC. Politico’s Ken Vogel reports that Kibbe had fallen into disfavor with the board “amid concerns about declining fundraising and lavish spending.”
  3. Bobby Jindal’s chief of staff, Kyle Plotkin, leaves his job on the official side today to join his boss’s exploratory committee. The Louisiana governor will announce his presidential campaign on June 24.
  4. Rand Paul is announcing this morning that Mark Spitznagel will be a Senior Economic Advisor to his campaign. The founder of Universa Investments “also operates Idyll Farms, a sustainable, pasture-based goat farm in northern Michigan,” according to a release from the Kentucky senator.


“Republican presidential candidates on the hot seat, thanks to Pope Francis,” by Karen Tumulty: “Until recently, Democrats usually were the ones to feel the most heat. But now it is the turn of Republicans, thanks to Pope Francis, the charismatic and activist pontiff. The pope’s 192-page call to action Thursday, which blames the burning of fossil fuels and human activity for climate change, is the latest example of how Francis has become part of the political debate in a season in which no fewer than five Catholics may seek the Republican presidential nomination. Previously, he also condemned inequality as ‘the root of social evil’ and said the problems of the poor should be ‘radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation.'”

Rick Santorum said that some of what Francis says grates on him, including his comment that Catholics should not believe that their faith requires them to reproduce like rabbits. “Marco Rubio has chided the pope for helping broker President Obama’s deal to normalize U.S. relations with Cuba. And when the pope expressed support for the theory of evolution, Bobby Jindal declined to comment on whether that would affect his support for a bill allowing his state’s schools to teach creationism.”


— ZIGNAL VISUAL — Bernie’s Bump: As the media spoils for a good fight, much has been made about a pair of recent polls that shows Sanders closing on Hillary in New Hampshire. As it turns out, Sanders has also emerged as a social media darling, attracting more mentions online than almost every GOP contender and showing signs of closing the intensity gap with the Democratic frontrunner. This chart shows total mentions of the presidential field since Monday.

Jeb Bush received a serious spike after formally declaring his candidacy on Monday. And Donald Trump is his own social media category entirely. But take a look at how Sanders stacks up against the rest of the GOP field in terms of total mentions. Sanders is mentioned more frequently than Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Scott Walker or any other GOP contender. These maps show a state by state breakdown of which candidate received more Twitter mentions in all 50 states. The map below compares Sanders mentions by state with those of Ted Cruz.

Clinton still has a major advantage over her Democratic challenger, but there are states where interest in Sanders is greater. Here’s a state-by-state glance at Sanders vs. Clinton. For our purposes, we’ve put Clinton in red on this map and Sanders in blue:


Picture of the day:

Tweets of the day:

Eric Holder, the former Attorney General, posted for the first time: Hate and gun violence. How often? How long? My heart breaks – again. Condolences to victims, survivors and families at Mother Emanuel

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) offered reflections on Wednesday’s events:

While Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) criticized President Obama for

after Wednesday’s shooting:

Finally, Hillary Clinton wished followers a happy Ramadan:

Instagrams of the day:

Republican politicos shared snapshots for Throwback Thursday:


— Dallas Morning News, “Texas can bar Confederate license plates, Supreme Court rules”: “Writing for the [5-4] majority, Justice Stephen Breyer said messages of any kind stamped on a state license plate are “government speech,” not private messages protected by the First Amendment. That’s true even if, as in Texas, officials have routinely approved plates designed by hundreds of schools, businesses and organizations, the court ruled. ‘When government speaks, it is not barred by the Free Speech Clause from determining the content of what it says,’ Breyer wrote. Justice Samuel Alito’s fiery dissent argued that when a government opens up a forum — in this case space on its license plates — to outside groups, it can’t pick and choose which messages are offensive and which are OK.”

— The News & Observer, “U.S. Supreme Court declines to  take up the NC ultrasound law”“A North Carolina law that would have forced doctors performing abortions to do an ultrasound, display the sonogram for the woman and describe it in great detail suffered a final defeat on Monday when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the case. The controversial provisions of a 2011 law never went into effect.”


Politico, “Trade pact foes regroup after setback,” by Lauren French: “lawmakers at the center of last week’s insurrection said they’re not done yet — regardless of how confident House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) are that they’ve devised an end run around their opposition. The liberal lawmakers said Thursday they’re already rounding up votes to again thwart Obama’s trade initiative when it returns to the House, which could be as soon as next week.”

— National Journal, “The trials of Steve Scalise,” by Daniel Newhauser: “When then-Majority Leader Eric Cantor surprisingly lost his primary, leaving a vacancy in leadership, Scalise ran an upstart bid and bested the presumed frontrunner, then-Chief Deputy Whip Peter Roskam, by promising to bridge the chasm between restive conservatives and their party leaders … One year into his tenure as Majority Whip, it would be a stretch to say he has succeeded on that front.”

— The Hill, “McCain expects Pentagon plan on closing Gitmo,” by Jordain Carney: “Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Thursday that Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has pledged to come forward with a plan to close the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba … The Arizona Republican spearheaded a defense policy bill, which passed the Senate earlier Thursday, that would give the administration a path to close the controversial Cuban facility — if it can win congressional approval. The administration has threatened to veto the legislation.”


Charleston paper apologizes for gun ad on cover with shooting news. From Talking Points Memo: “’The front-page sticky note that was attached to some home delivery newspapers on the same day as this tragedy is a deeply regrettable coincidence. We apologize to those who were offended,’ the paper wrote on Facebook in response to a complaint.”


Is Pope Francis unduly pessimistic about the world? From the Catholic Herald: “The Pope seems to entrust a large role to public policy when it comes to solving environmental problems and this was discussed in long sections of the document. They are not the best sections to say the least. This is a problem because misguided public policy in this area could have catastrophic consequences.”


–What’s happening today on the campaign trail: Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Ben Carson, John Kasich, Bobby Jindal and Rick Santorum are scheduled to address the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s Road to Majority Conference in Washington, D.C. Ted Cruz will attend townhall meetings in Iowa. Lindsey Graham is scheduled to make several stops in New Hampshire. Hillary Clinton will attend three fundraisers in Los Angeles. Bernie Sanders will address the NALEO Annual Conference in Las Vegas.

–At the White House: President Obama will depart Los Angeles for San Francisco to deliver remarks at the Annual Meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. He will participate in a DNC roundtable and address a DCCC event in the afternoon. 

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I’d be the executioner myself if they would allow it.” —  Carson Cowles, the uncle of accused Charleston shooter Dylann Roof, as he wiped away tears outside his mobile home in Gaston, S.C.


Expect Red Line delays: Metro’s trains are sharing a track between the Takoma and Fort Totten stations. The problem (this time) is equipment that was being used to do overnight track work is late moving out of the area. Riders should expect delays in both directions.

— The Nationals lost to the Rays 5-3, as Bryce Harper strained a hamstring.

— Jon Stewart had a serious monologue about race, terrorism and gun violence after Charleston church massacre.