Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Coulter and O’Donnell face off in live debate

Conservative firebrand Ann Coulter and liberal MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell squared off on Sunday before a slightly left-leaning student audience at George Washington University.
The debate was sponsored by the university’s College Republicans and College Democrats in conjunction with the Young Americas Foundation. The two offered their views on everything from Rush Limbaugh’s recent comments about Georgetown student Sandra Fluke to the ongoing crisis in Syria. 

Highlights as follows:

Contraception mandate/Health Care

The evening commenced with the hot topic of the day: contraception.
Coulter, the author of “Demonic: How the Liberal Mob Is Endangering America,” explained that the real issue is that people do not fully understand the definition of insurance.
“Insurance is to cover unexpected emergencies — fires, car crashes and dreaded diseases,” she said. “If we’re covering something that costs between $10 and at most $30 a month, well then what can’t be ruled on by the HHS secretary?  This is them taking our freedom away — the government taking our freedom away. I think the next mandate if Obama is reelected is going to be that you will have to pay a higher insurance premium if you own a gun in your home.”
O’Donnell, on the other hand, pushed for a government overhaul of the insurance industry.
“I wish the government was not requiring any insurance companies to do anything in the health care area because I wish the government had bypassed the health insurance companies completely,” said O’Donnell.
O’Donnell said he preferred universal coverage like Medicare, or as moderator Frank Sesno called it, “socialized medicine.”
“Yeah, you can call it that. It is the single most efficient health care delivery system in the world. Not in the United States — in the world,” O’Donnell added.

The Rush Limbaugh controversy

Following the outrage last week about Limbaugh’s comments regarding Sandra Fluke, O’Donnell tried to focus on the radio host.
“It is about contraception for Rush Limbaugh. That’s all he’s talking about,” O’Donnell said.
And Rush Limbaugh has decided a college student or in the case he was talking about a law school student — if that law school student wants and uses contraception and advocates for others, she is a prostitute. She is a slut. That is what the Limbaugh position is.”
Coulter took the opportunity to discuss Limbaugh to point out all the sins liberals have committed against women.
“This red-herring, when liberals all get ginned up about some talk radio host who is very popular, I don’t know why Republicans, particularly elected Republicans are responding at all,” said Coulter. “Why doesn’t Obama have to respond to the things that his million-dollar donor Bill Maher has said, calling Sarah Palin the ‘c-word,’ for example. Why doesn’t my friend Lawrence have to respond his MSNBC colleague Ed Schultz calling Laura Ingraham a slut? Or Rachel Maddow accusing the good people of Kentucky of murders of the census worker?”
“Those all get a pass because conservatives aren’t so silly. We would rather talk about issues. I can see why liberals don’t want to talk about issues.”

Obama and the economy

The pair then delved into the economy and whether it will pose a problem for Obama next November.
“It is a vulnerability to all of those who have not had the great experience of being in the economics classes here at GW,” said O’Donnell. “Look, he found himself sworn into the worst economy since the Depression and things were getting worse by the hour on his first day and in his first months. Unemployment skyrocketed in January and February of his first year and so in economics you can never prove what you did. There’s too many variables.”
O’Donnell reviewed the stimulus spending efforts but said it was something like a medical procedure, which is difficult to determine how it might succeed.
“You never know what might have happened if we had done nothing. What would the unemployment rate have gone to if we had done nothing?” He added. “And so that’s the pain of being the president in a time of tough economic conditions because whatever measures you take that you firmly believe are taken to help the economy you’re never going to prove that they work. That’s just the nature of economics.”
O’Donnell boasted about how taxes were increased when he was the chief of staff of the Senate Finance Committee during the Clinton years, which he explained didn’t prevent an economic boom. However, he did not say the economy soared because of those hikes.
Coulter pointed out that while O’Donnell’s defense of the economy was admirable, it is difficult to defend.
“That was a very good defense of a very bad economy. You can never run the same experiment twice and see what happened,” she said. “But there are comparisons to other recessions and this is the worst recovery — the unemployment rate has been higher and longer during the recovery than it was during the recession, which ended in mid-2009.”
“Also, the Obama administration economists, who have taken economics courses, they made their predictions for what the stimulus would do. And they certainly weren’t raising expectations. In fact, instead of getting the unemployment rate down, it had gone through the roof. It also something that can be looked at without having to run the experiment twice, that the stimulus money went to Democrats, friends of Democrats. It went to very high income states, not states that are suffering, not the states with the highest unemployment — but the states that voted for Obama.”
“And you have half-a-trillion dollars going to Solyndra and six members of the Obama administration going to work for Solyndra under a special loan taxpayers can never get back. I mean, we really do have crony capitalism that has hurt Americans while helping Democratic friends”
Coulter said to compare the U.S. economy and its Keynesian policies to Canada and its austerity policies to determine what course would have been the best.

Syria/Foreign Policy

With Syria in the news. Coulter and O’Donnell broadly discussed the philosophy of interventionism — agreeing that in many cases it is wise to stay home in the face of foreign uprisings.
O’Donnell pointed out that each situation is a new one and that past precedent cannot inform current conflicts, and analogized his philosophy on foreign engagement to Ron Paul. Coulter took the argument a step further, pointing out that liberals always will err on engaging in conflicts in which America’s interests are not at stake while conservatives who engage in foreign conflicts are focused on advancing America’s cause.
“If it does not serve America’s interests Democrat presidents want to intervene. If it does serve America’s interests Democrats do not want to intervene,” she said. Coulter then launched into a chronicle of the history of Democratic presidents’ wars and detailing her belief that it was foolish to topple Libyan dictator Muamar Gaddafi (whom Bush had made “his bitch”) while ignoring the pro-democracy uprising in Iran.
When she had completed her history lesson, Senso scoffed, “I have no idea what you just said.”
“What don’t you understand?” she responded. “You must not be very bright if you don’t understand.”

Voting age and gender

Appealing to the heavily college student audience, Senso asked Coulter and O’Donnell their thoughts on lowering the drinking age and pivoted quickly into a debate on the voting age. O’Donnell used the opportunity to attack Coulter for her past comments on the issue.
According to Coulter, the drinking age should be lowered to 19 years old, but people should not be allowed to vote until they begin paying for their own insurance.
O’Donnell did not offer an answer but instead took the opportunity to explain to the uninformed audience that 26 is the age most begin to pay for their own insurance and followed it up with a past Coulter quote in which she expressed a desire to no longer see women at the ballot box, as they largely vote Democrat.
“Ann believes that none of you should be allowed to vote, believes and has written that the voting age should be raised to 26,” O’Donnell said in a menacing voice.
“Yeah when you pay for your own health insurance,” Coulter reiterated.
“She said you people are not smart enough to vote. She has also said — told the British press — that women in this country, and this is very self-sacrificing of her, should not be allowed to vote. She was asked by the Guardian in 2003, ‘Who shouldn’t have the vote’ and I am going to quote word for word here so there is no confusion, answer, and this is a quotation: ‘It’s true. It would be a much better country if women did not vote. That is simply a fact. In fact, in every presidential election since 1950 – except Goldwater in ’64 – the Republican would have won, if only the men had voted,’” O’Donnell quoted Coulter.
“Would you miss voting?” Senso asked Coulter.
“If the rest of my gender doesn’t vote I wouldn’t miss it at all,” she said to boos.
Unfazed, Coulter took any and every opportunity during the uneventful question and answer period to remind the rowdy crowd that, in her opinion they — as college students, the majority under 26 — really should not be voting.

Political pundits spar on social issues

Monday, March 5, 2012 1:26 a.m.

Political pundits Ann Coulter and Lawrence O'Donnell crossed swords in Lisner Auditorium Sunday night at the annual College Republicans and College Democrats debate. Zachary Krahmer | Hatchet Staff Photographer
This post was written by Hatchet reporter Delaney Walsh.
Right-wing maven Ann Coulter and liberal commentator Lawrence O’Donnell locked horns on health care, stimulus spending and the voting age at a debate Sunday that drew a boisterous crowd of hundreds of students.
The pair of ideological opposites traded turns at the mic, defending their stances on issues tossed to them by moderator and School of Media and Public Affairs Director Frank Sesno.
Sesno asked the pundits about the Georgetown University law student whom conservative Rush Limbaugh called last week a “slut” and a “prostitute” for advocating for health insurance plans to cover the cost of contraception. Limbaugh apologized for the comments Saturday.
Coulter denied contraception as an issue of religion, arguing that the issue is the stated purpose of insurance.
“Why not cover movies? Why not cover firearms?” she said. “Insurance is supposed to be for unexpected disasters.”
O’Donnell, who hosts “The Last Word” on MSNBC, defended health insurance policies that cover the cost of contraception, arguing that it reduces costs by preventing unwanted pregnancies. He jokingly referred to Limbaugh’s four marriages and lack of children as “not the practice of birth control [but] the perfection of it.”
Coulter shocked many in the crowd when she called for the voting age to be upped to 26 years of age – the point at which individuals must leave their parents’ health care plans.
O’Donnell brought up Coulter’s 2003 interview with The Guardian, when she said women should be denied the right to vote because they cast ballots for more liberal candidates and wreck the elections.
When asked by Sesno if she still backed the opinion, Coulter said the quote was “identical,” and she continued to defend her stance.
“If women couldn’t vote, we would have a Republican president every year,” Coulter said.
As the audience booed, O’Donnell replied, “I rest my case!” and pretended to walk off the stage, yielding a boom of cheers and applause. After returning, he praised Coulter for “hanging in there with her own stuff” and refusing to back down.
The debate was co-sponsored by the College Republicans, College Democrats, the Student Association, Program Board and the Young America’s Foundation.
Chris Wassman, public relations chairman for the College Republicans, called out Sesno for acting less than impartial toward the speakers.
“If the moderator is getting applause, that says a lot of things,” Wassman said. “He was obviously not fair.”

Conservative pundit Ann Coulter debated MSNBC host Lawrence O'Donnell at Lisner Auditorium Sunday in an event hosted by student organizations like the College Democrats and the College Republicans. Zachary Krahmer | Hatchet Staff Photographer
Tension from Sunday night’s political pundit debate has not yet eased up.
Right-leaning political commentator Ann Coulter, who was brought to campus to spar off against MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell at Sunday’s debate, is lambasting the evening’s host for treating her like “a crazy broad,” the Washington Examiner reported Monday.
Coulter skewered School of Media and Public Affairs Director Frank Sesno for attacking her responses at the debate.
After asking her a question about the U.S. intervention in Syria, Sesno brushed off her answer responding, “I have no idea what you just said.”
She scoffed back, “You must not be very bright if you don’t understand.”
The debate was hosted by campus organizations including the College Republicans and College Democrats.
After the event, public relations chair for the College Republicans, Chris Wassman, also called out Sesno for biased moderating.
“If the moderator is getting applause, that says a lot of things,” Wassman said after the event. “He was obviously not fair.”
Samara Sit, communications director for SMPA, did not return immediate request for comment.

GWStudent says:
Even as a Democrat, I was annoyed by Frank Sesno’s method of moderating this debate. He seemed to want to partake in it himself and at one point was even cutting off Coulter. The questions were not well selected and rarely achieved a good discussion, instead playing off of emotions and biases (such as starting off with Rush Limbaugh, which Coulter handled easily by pointing out the real issue was with the healthcare law). This event was well planned, but bad moderating wasted a great opportunity for an interesting debate.

Candidates notch wins as Ohio 'too close to call'

Win Mcnamee / Getty Images
Supporters of Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney celebrate during a Super Tuesday event at the Westin Copley Place March 6, 2012 in Boston.

Updated 9:52 p.m. ET — Republican presidential hopefuls started to tally wins from the 11 Super Tuesday contests as voting started to conclude this evening.
NBC News projected Mitt Romney as the winner in Virginia, Vermont and Massachusetts, the state where he served as governor. Newt Gingrich was projected the winner in Georgia, the state where he had served as a representative in Congress. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum won in Tennessee and Oklahoma.
But the crown jewel of the Super Tuesday contests, Ohio, was declared "too early to call" shortly after its polls closed.
Romney and Santorum had waged a closely-fought battle over the state, a key bellwether in the general election.

Eleven states were playing host to nominating contests on Tuesday, which were poised to put the battle for the Republican presidential nomination on a path toward conclusion — or, alternatively, on a route that threatens a more prolonged, bitter fight.
More delegates were up for grabs on this Super Tuesday than had been previously allocated to the remaining GOP candidates after two months of voting, according to NBC News projections. Between the 10 states holding primaries or caucuses and Wyoming, which will allocate five of its 26 delegates, a total of 424 of the 1,144 delegates needed to win the nomination are at stake.
The eleven states in which delegates were at stake on Tuesday were Georgia, Virginia, Vermont, North Dakota, Ohio, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Idaho, Alaska and Wyoming.
"We're going to win a few, we're going to lose a few. But as it looks right now, we're going to get at least a couple gold medals and a whole bunch of silver medals," Santorum said at his election night party in Steubenville, Ohio before the state's results were announced. "We have won in the West and the Midwest and the South, and we're ready to win across this country."
"There are three states under our belt, and counting. We're going to get more by the time this night is over," Romney told supporters in Boston before firmly declaring: "I'm going to get this nomination."
In Ohio, both candidates spent much of Monday re-fighting their battle from just a week earlier in Michigan, where the former eked out a win in the state where he was raised.
During the intervening week, Romney has eaten into an advantage Santorum held in the polls; the state was seen as locked in a virtual tie between the two candidates by the end of Monday.
NBC's Andrea Mitchell, Chuck Todd and 'Meet the Press' moderator David Gregory offer election night analysis.

"It's gut-check time," Santorum said Monday evening in Cuyahoga Falls, where he assailed the Romney campaign and a supportive super PAC for blanketing the state in negative ads.
The pro-Romney forces had spent a combined $4 million on the former Massachusetts governor's behalf as of last Friday. By comparison, the Santorum campaign and a super PAC working on Santorum's behalf spent just over $900,000.
"I hope that I get the support of people here in Ohio tomorrow, and in other states across the country," a confident Romney told supporters on Monday in Youngstown. "I believe if I do, I’ll get the nomination."
If Romney accomplishes that, the fight for the nomination could move into a new phase.
A strong performance by Romney might have moved more Republicans who had harbored doubts about the ex-governor off the fence, and finally create some sustained momentum for him. That could point the primary toward an endgame.

Each candidate had emphasized certain contests as part of their Super Tuesday strategy. Romney had been expected to win Massachusetts, Vermont, and Virginia, where only he and Texas Rep. Ron Paul qualified to appear on the ballot.
Santorum focused on Oklahoma and Tennessee, where he proved victorious, but also traveled to North Dakota and Georgia.
The former speaker had called Georgia a must-win contest for him on Tuesday, given the flagging momentum for his candidacy ever since he won Jan. 21's South Carolina primary.
The ex-speaker vowed to push forward with his campaign in an occasionally awkward speech that dwelled for some time on the attacks and adversity faced by the Gingrich campaign.
"I want you to know that in the morning we are going onto Alabama, we're going onto Mississippi, we're going onto Kansas. And that's just this week," Gingrich said Tuesday night after taking the stage to wrestler Hulk Hogan's theme song.
Paul, meanwhile, is emphasizing the caucuses in Alaska, Idaho and North Dakota — states where the libertarian congressman is hoping his enthusiastic supporters will help him accrue delegates.
But while the candidates are battling for ever-important delegates, the biggest prize come Tuesday night may be the more nebulous concept of momentum.
"I think what he needs to do is he needs to over-deliver on expectations," said Bob Vander Plaats, a supporter of Santorum's, about what the candidate must accomplish.
Momentum can mean volunteers and donations that help candidates wage credible campaigns. It has come in fits and starts this cycle, as each Republican candidate has failed to string together a meaningful streak of victories.
Romney could accomplish just that on Tuesday, though, adding to the air of inevitability surrounding his candidacy.
"At the end of the day, people have to make a choice about who can go toe to toe with the president," said Ohio Rep. Steve LaTourette, a Republican supporting Romney. "He was always the inevitable candidate — there were just bumps in the road."
A quick conclusion to the primary would be appealing to some Republicans, who have begun voicing a new sense of urgency about the need to pivot toward the general election given the increasingly negative public perception of the primary. New data released Monday suggested voters are souring as a result of the primary.

Forty percent of respondents, for instance, said in Monday's NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll that the primary process has given them a less favorable opinion of the Republican Party. And more independent voters said in a separate Washington Post/Pew Research Center poll that their impression of the GOP candidates was getting worse as a result of the primary than those who said their opinion was improving.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., who endorsed Romney on Sunday, suggested the time for rallying around a candidate may be nearing.
"Somehow there's a process that's at work here that I think will allow our party to sort of go through identifying where, perhaps, there may be some differences, but then finally come together, transcend them, set them aside and rally behind a hard-fought message and platform that is directly focused on growing the economy," the No. 2 House Republican said Monday on Fox News. "And I think with Mitt Romney's unveiling of his economic plan last week, that is exactly what's happening right now."

Biden to deliver speeches framing the general election

More and more, Team Obama is beginning to flex its general-election muscles.
The latest sign: Vice President Joe Biden is set to deliver four speeches to frame the general election, an senior Obama campaign official tells First Read.
The first speech will take place next week in Ohio, and the other three will occur in battleground states.
This news comes after President Obama engaged his GOP rivals -- though not by name -- on Iran at his news conference today, which just happened to be scheduled on Super Tuesday.

Obama, GOP in stark contrast on Iran, world views

Maybe more than at any other time in this presidential contest, the politics of Iran came into sharp focus today, as President Obama engaged with his GOP rivals -- though not by name -- over that thorny subject.
And it highlighted the starkly different world views between the incumbent president up for re-election in November and the Republican candidates who are vying to replace him.
“What's said on the campaign trail -- you know, those folks don't have a lot of responsibilities,” Obama said this afternoon in the White House Briefing Room during a news conference, his first in three months and just so happens to fall on Super Tuesday. “They're not commander in chief.”
He criticized them for talking about war with a certain “casualness.” “This is not a game,” Obama said. “And there's nothing casual about it.”
He derided the field for “bluster” and “big talk” that’s “more about politics than actually trying to solve a difficult problem.”
Romney today, showing just how starkly different his worldview is from Obama.
“Israel does not need public lectures about how to weigh decisions of war and peace,” Romney said during a speech before AIPAC, the pro-Israel in Washington. “It needs our support.”
He called the president’s policy, one of “procrastination” and said that he, instead, would make this specific promise: “I will station multiple aircraft carriers and warships at Iran's door.”
Rick Santorum today during his speech before AIPAC echoed the hard-line hawkish views toward Iran that he has espoused throughout the campaign.
“If they do not tear down those facilities, we will tear them down ourselves,” Santorum said, referring to Iran’s nuclear facilities.
He added, in almost direct response to the president’s criticism, “This is not bellicosity and warmongering. This is preventing the most radical regime in the world from having a weapon that could fundamentally change the security posture not just of the Middle East, but as we've seen with planned attacks here in the United States, a nuclear Iran with a nuclear shield to project terror around the world is a nightmare for all freedom-loving people in the world.”
But that’s par for the course for Santorum. Campaigning in New Hampshire back in January, Santorum said that if Iran were to acquire a nuclear weapon, he contended, events like the terrorist attacks on 9/11 would become “a routine occurrence.”
Newt Gingrich during his speech to AIPAC today – once again – invoked a potential “second Holocaust.”
“I would provide all available intelligence to the Israel government, ensure that they had the equipment necessary, and reassure them that if an Israeli prime minister decides that he has to avoid the threat of a second Holocaust through preemptive measures, that I would require no advanced notice to understand why I would support the right of Israel to survive in a dangerous world,” he said.
On Capitol Hill, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) called for a “declaration of war” vote as a credible step in showing Iran that moving toward making nuclear weapons is unacceptable, NBC’s Debra Pettit reports. He called sanctions useful, but said they haven’t deterred Iran from going forward with their nuclear weapons plans.
Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said he is "against any rush" to have such a vote.
"I think we have to be very cautious," Reid said, adding, "I am not going to be going forward rushing for a declaration of war.” And, like the president, he urged Republicans to stop throwing around the word "war" so casually."
Santorum also acknowledged the politics of the day, this being Super Tuesday.
“This is a somewhat important day in my life today,” he said. “But I wanted to come off the campaign trail to come here, because one of the reasons that I decided to run for president is because of the grave concern I have about the security of our country.”
When asked about Romney's criticism of his foreign policy at today's news conference, Obama showed he's ready for the general-election fight.
"Good luck tonight," he said. "Really!"

As GOP battles, voter confidence in Obama continues to improve

As Republican candidates for president battle on this Super Tuesday, President Obama’s score in the Voter Confidence Index for March is now -15 in the latest NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll.

Excluding the death of Osama bin Laden in May 2011, that is his best VCI score in two years -- since January 2010.

It’s also 4 points short of where George W. Bush was when he was reelected in 2004.

For more on the VCI, plus historical information, click here. The chart will be updated today.

About the Voter Confidence Index

What's the VCI and how is it calculated?

NBC News and
updated 11/15/2011 12:46:33 PM ET
The NBC News Political Unit and created the Voter Confidence Index as a way to measure the level of confidence the American electorate has in the president and his party at a given moment. The VCI also demonstrates how that level correlates to previous election results.
  1. Other political news of note
    1. Early exit poll data point to continued faith in Romney's electability
      Early indications from exit poll interviews with Republican primary voters in Virginia and Georgia suggest that even the voters who did not cast their ballots for Mitt Romney think he’s the candidate most likely to defeat President Obama in November.
    2. Biden to deliver speeches framing the general election
    3. Candidates notch wins as Ohio remains 'too close to call'
To create the index, we used a combination of three questions commonly asked in national polls — the president’s job approval rating, the direction of the country, and the so-called generic congressional ballot (which tracks voter preference between parties rather than individual candidates). There are other questions that can measure a level of confidence, but these three are widely recognized as key barometers.
In the VCI, a positive (+) measurement is generally a good sign for the president’s party while a negative number (-) is not.
To provide historical context, our pollsters calculated the national average of those same indicators as they existed prior to the midterm elections for every president dating back to Gerald Ford.
The results, most of the time, show that the lower the VCI number, the more poorly the president’s party did at the polls.
This does not always hold true. There are other mitigating factors in some circumstances, but the aggregate number derived from the three questions above captures the climate of the country at a given moment in time.
The VCI is not meant to be predictive of any specific outcome, rather it serves to offer a frame of reference for how the mood of the country can correspond to some midterm election results.

How is the VCI calculated?
We give equal weight to all three questions. We take the difference between two sets of numbers in each question and add them up.
For example, if 45 percent of people approve of the job the president is doing and 50 percent disapprove, then that’s -5. If just 30 percent of the county believe the country is headed in the right direction, but 60 percent think it’s off on the wrong track, then that’s -30.
And if 45 percent prefer a Republican-controlled Congress and 40 percent prefer a Democratic-controlled one, then that’s -5 for the president’s party. That would give a grand total VCI of -40.
Because not every poll asks all three questions, we took the average of the polls on each question, and combined those averages for a total VCI.

Which polls did you choose and why? There are lots of polls out there and there is also plenty of disagreement in the statistical community about what constitutes a good poll or a bad poll. The NBC News standard is to generally use polls that are done with live callers, not ones that are automated.
For the VCI, we chose to use the best known and most often conducted live-caller national polls: NBC News/Wall Street Journal, ABC News/Washington Post, CBS News/New York Times, Fox News/Opinion Dynamics, CNN/Opinion Research, Pew Research, USA Today/Gallup, Ipsos (including AP, Reuters, McClatchy), AP/GFK, Bloomberg/Selzer, and Newsweek.

Obama on GOP challengers: 'They're not commander in chief'

President Barack Obama used his bully pulpit on Tuesday to send a tough rejoinder to those Republicans who question his national security strategy: "They're not commander in chief."
The president took several opportunities to snipe at his would-be GOP challengers in a press conference scheduled the same day as Super Tuesday, a day when a number of delegates are at stake and could move the battle for the nomination toward a conclusion.
Obama most aggressively rebuffed criticism in recent days by the Republican hopefuls of his handling of the situations in Iran and Syria. Three of the GOP candidates made that criticism during speeches Tuesday to AIPAC, the powerful pro-Israel advocacy group.
"Now, what's said on the campaign trail -- you know, those folks don't have a lot of responsibilities. They're not commander in chief," Obama said.
Super Tuesday to set the tone for remainder of GOP race
"And when I see the casualness with which some of these folks talk about war, I'm reminded of the costs involved in war; I'm reminded of the decision that I have to make ... This is not a game. And there's nothing casual about it," he added.
It was a moment that seemed intended to remind voters of the gravity of the presidency, especially in contrast with some of the more fickle elements of the campaign trail.
"Typically, it's not the folks who are popping off who pay the price," Obama said of politically motivated saber-rattling, especially toward Iran. "It's these incredible men and women in uniform and their families who pay the price."
That hasn't stopped Republicans from piling on Obama, though.
"Hope is not a foreign policy. The only thing respected by thugs and tyrants is our resolve, backed by our power and our readiness to use it," Romney told attendees of AIPAC.
Asked how he would respond to the former Massachusetts governor's criticism of his foreign policy criticism, Obama had a short reply.
"Good luck tonight!" he said with a grin. "Really!"

With a chuckle, President Barack Obama wishes GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney "good luck," impying he's ready for Romney's challenge.
There were other notable remarks by Obama during Tuesday's news conference, including those about women voters and Latinos -- two crucial voting blocs in November.
The president reaffirmed his commitment to comprehensive immigration reform, but bemoaned increased Republican opposition to any plan that would give illegal immigrants a pathway to citizenship -- a shift from the policy of President George W. Bush, Obama noted.
"We didn't get it done," Obama said of his 2008 promise of immigration reform, a failure that has disappointed a number of Latinos. "And the reason we haven't gotten it done is because what used to be a bipartisan agreement that we should fix this ended up becoming a partisan issue."
But he suggested that a shift in Republican thinking -- or, at least, a shift in their representation in Congress -- would be needed to accomplish reforms.
"Depending on how Congress turns out, we'll see how many Republican votes we need to get it done," he said.
The president ducked a question about whether he agrees with a statement made previously by Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, that Republicans are waging a war on women.
"Women are going to make up their own mind in this election about who is advancing the issues that they care most deeply about," Obama said. "And I believe that Democrats have a better story to tell to women about how we're going to solidify the middle class and grow this economy, make sure everybody got -- has a fair shot, everybody's doing their fair share, and we got a fair set of rules of the road that everybody has to follow."

First Thoughts: Damaged goods?

Damaged goods? New NBC/WSJ poll shows the primary season has taken a toll on GOP and its candidates… Romney’s image -- right now -- is worse than McCain’s, Kerry’s, and Dole’s at this point in the race… But he’s also in a stronger position of capturing the GOP nomination… Also in the poll: Obama’s political standing has improved… Wrapping Obama’s day yesterday at AIPAC… And it’s one day until Super Tuesday.

Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images
Campaign signs for Republican presidential candidates former Senator Rick Santorum and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney line a road in Bedford, New Hampshire.
*** Damaged goods? If you're a Republican reading our latest NBC/WSJ poll, there’s one immediate conclusion: This Republican nominating season, which holds 11 Super Tuesday contests tomorrow, needs to come to an end -- ASAP. And that’s probably why more members of the GOP establishment, including Eric Cantor and Tom Coburn, are endorsing front-runner Mitt Romney. According to the survey, the combative and highly scrutinized primary season has taken a toll on the party and its presidential candidates, especially Romney. Four in 10 of all adults say the Republican nominating process has given them a less favorable impression of the GOP, versus just 12% with a more favorable opinion. Additionally, asked to describe the nominating battle in a word or phrase, 69% of respondents (including 63% of independents and even 56% of Republicans) answered with a negative comment. Some of the examples from Republicans: “Unenthusiastic,” “discouraged,” “lesser of two evils,” “painful,” and disappointed.” And 55% of respondents (including 35% of Republicans) believe the Democratic Party does a better job than the GOP of appealing to those who aren’t hard-core supporters.
Read the full poll here (.pdf)

A new NBC News-WSJ poll shows that Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney appears to have made progress in garnering support ahead of the crucial GOP Super Tuesday primaries. NBC's Chuck Todd has all of the details.
*** A flashing red light for the GOP: It’s worth noting, of course, that this poll was conducted (Feb. 29-March 3) during the divisive GOP primary battle, the debate over contraception, and Rush Limbaugh’s comments about the Georgetown law student. If nothing else, these numbers show how bad these conversations have been for the GOP’s brand. And they serve as a flashing red light for a Republican Party that wants to win the White House, take over the Senate, and hold on to the House. About the only positive Republicans can take out of this survey is the timing: Perhaps as a nominee, Romney can change the conversation back to the economy – or at least away from the social issues which are having a damaging effect among key women swing voting groups.

*** Romney’s image -- right now -- is worse than McCain’s, Kerry’s, and Dole’s: The primary season has taken a toll on Romney, too. In January’s NBC/WSJ poll, Romney’s fav/unfav score stood at 31%/36% (and 22%/42% among indies), which as we noted then wasn’t good. But in this latest survey, it’s even worse, 28%/39% (and 22%/38% among indies). In fact, Romney’s image right now is worse than almost all other recent candidates who went on to win their party’s presidential nomination: Obama was 51%/28% and McCain was 47%/27%, per the March 2008 NBC/WSJ poll; Kerry was 42%/30% at this point in ’04; George W. Bush was 43%/32% in 2000; and Bob Dole was 35%/39%. The one exception: Bill Clinton, in April 1992, was 32%/43%. That means that if Romney becomes the GOP nominee, he has a LONG WAY to go to rehabilitate his image. Just see SNL’s opening skit over the weekend.

*** But he’s also in a stronger position of winning the GOP nomination: That’s the bad news for Romney. The good news, per the poll: He’s in a strong position to capturing his party’s presidential nomination. After his primary victories last week in Arizona and Michigan, he leads the national GOP horserace with support from 38% of Republican voters, his highest-ever mark in the poll. Romney’s followed by Santorum at 32% and Gingrich and Paul, who are tied at 13% each. In a race reduced to just two candidates, Romney leads Santorum by five points, 50%-45%. In particular, the former Massachusetts governor has boosted his standing with Tea Party supporters. What’s more, 72% of Republicans say they would be satisfied if Romney becomes the GOP nominee. Bottom line: Romney has never been in a stronger position among Republicans in our poll, but he’s also never been in a worse position among everyone else.

*** Obama’s improved political standing: While the nomination battle has damaged the GOP and Romney, it has only helped President Obama’s political standing. In the poll, his approval rating stands at 50%-45%, his highest mark in the NBC/WSJ survey since Osama bin Laden’s death. What’s more, he leads Romney by six points, 50%-44%, winning independents (46%-39%), women (55%-37%), suburban women (46%-44%), and those in the Midwest (52%-42%). Obama enjoys bigger leads over Paul (50%-42%), Santorum (53%-39%), and Gingrich (54%-37%). Bolstering Obama’s standing is increased optimism about the state of the U.S. economy: 40% believe the economy will improve during the next year, and 57% say the worst is behind us (versus 36% who say the worst is still ahead). Peter Hart, the Democratic half of our NBC/WSJ survey, sums up the current poll’s outlook on the 2012 race: If it were a cocktail, it would be “one part Obama, one part the economy, and three parts the Republican Party’s destruction.”

*** Obama at AIPAC: But that’s the situation now with EIGHT months to go until the general election. And there will challenges ahead for the president, including the situation with Iran. Here’s the New York Times’ take on Obama’s speech at AIPAC yesterday: “In a forceful address to the group, the influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Mr. Obama declared that he would not tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran and would act — with military force, if necessary — to prevent that from happening. But he made it clear that he did not believe that a strike on Iran would serve the interests of either the United States or Israel. And he chided his Republican critics for, as he described it, putting politics ahead of American national security interests.” Obama meets with Israeli PM Netanyahu at 10:45 am ET. This won’t be the tense meeting the two had the last time Netanyahu. But it also won’t be a pure love-fest; the two men just don’t like each other THAT much. Call it a “like” fest. The both need each other for their own domestic political reasons, and Netanyahu also finds himself in the position of potentially realizing he has to deal with a President Obama for FIVE more years, rather than one (which may have helped embolden him last year). Still, don’t underestimate the concern the White House has on this issue; the fact the president whole-heartedly rejected the idea of an Iranian “containment” policy is a sign of his own concerns on this issue with domestic audiences.

*** Super Tuesday developments: Turning to tomorrow’s Super Tuesday contests, here’s a wrap of some of the latest developments: An NBC/Marist poll released over the weekend showed Santorum and Romney running neck and neck in Ohio among likely GOP primary voters, with Santorum at 34% and Romney at 32%. (The poll also had Romney leading big in Virginia over Paul, 69%-26%)… A new Quinnipiac poll of Ohio shows Romney with the momentum, as he leads Santorum 34%-31% (those numbers were essentially flipped, per the Q poll released late last week)… And a Mason-Dixon poll shows Gingrich leading in Georgia among likely voters with 38%, followed by Romney at 24%, and Santorum at 22%. A quick “just asking”: What took so long for Santorum to go after Romney on health care and the mandate? Did it really take a Democratic oppo-dump or reminder for him to do it? It seems Democrats are jumping on this USA TODAY op-ed as much as Santorum. Still, a reminder that Romney never has gone through a tough time on health care for a sustained period during this nomination fight.

The Daily Rundown's Chuck Todd shares details from the latest NBC/WSJ poll and explains what may happen during Super Tuesday.
*** On the trail: Most of the action is in the Super Tuesday prize of Ohio: Romney stumps in Canton, Youngstown, and Zanesville… Santorum hits Miamisburg, Westerville, and Cuyahoga Falls… Meanwhile, Gingrich campaigns in Tennessee… And Paul is in Idaho.

Countdown to Super Tuesday: 1 day

Countdown to Alabama, Hawaii, and Mississippi primaries: 8 days

Countdown to Election Day: 246 days

Help for Military Homeowners

When I was at Fort Drum, NY last week I heard from a military spouse who said her family has been separated for 4 years – partly because of deployments but also because they can’t sell their house. At the same meeting an officer told me that he is underwater on a home he bought at a previous assignment. He wondered if there were any options for him that wouldn’t ruin his credit or require a large sum of money he didn’t have.
I’ve had conversations like these repeatedly in my travels to military communities across the country during the past year. The housing crisis has had a devastating impact on military homeowners, and their unique challenges have made it difficult for them to get help. So I’m glad to see that important protections for military homeowners were included in the recent settlement between the Federal government, 49 state Attorneys General, and five of the largest mortgage loan servicers: Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, and Ally Financial.
The mortgage servicers who signed the settlement have agreed to review their files for violations of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). They will give monetary relief to those families who saw their homes taken from them in violation of the SCRA, or who did not receive the SCRA interest-rate reduction to which they were entitled. In one way the settlement goes farther than the SCRA: it protects from non-judicial foreclosure all military homeowners who are deployed to a combat zone, even if the mortgage was not obtained before the servicemember entered active duty.
The settlement also has provisions for military homeowners who get Permanent Change of Station (PCS) orders. The banks will provide short-sale agreements and deficiency waivers to those servicemembers who were forced to sell their home at a loss due to a PCS and were not eligible for the military’s Homeowners Assistance Program (HAP). This will help servicemembers who were underwater on homes they bought between July 1, 2006 and December 31, 2008, or who received a PCS after October 1, 2010.
The servicers are also going to pay $10 million to the Veterans Housing Benefit Program Fund, which is used by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to guarantee VA loans on favorable terms for eligible veterans.
You can read more about the settlement here. If you feel that your rights were violated by one of the mortgage servicers in the settlement you can call the Justice Department at 1-800-896-7743. But you don’t have to call in order to get the help offered by the settlement, and you shouldn’t give information or money to anyone who says they will help you get in on the settlement! If the banks in the settlement owe you money they will try to find you; you don’t need to fill out an application or file a claim.
I hope this agreement will bring peace of mind to some of the military families who have been struggling with housing-related challenges, and that it will inspire other mortgage lenders and investors to look at what they can do for their military customers. As a reminder, if you have a complaint about your mortgage servicer you can file it with the CFPB at We also appreciate it when you use our “Tell Your Story” feature to let us know about what’s happened to you. Your stories are a big help to the efforts of the Office of Servicemember Affairs to understand the military issues that are important to you.

Marco Rubio Derangement Syndrome?

There’s a new affliction in the Diagnostical & Statistical Manual for Political Disorders: Marco Rubio Derangement Syndrome.
MRDS stokes conspiracy theories, distorts facts and feeds the political machine of a 24-hour, blog-induced news cycle.
In many respects, it’s a mirror of Barack Obama Derangement Syndrome. But what BODS is to the right, MRDS is to the left. Together, they show the state of today’s polarized politics and media landscape.
Thanks to Obama and his successes and travails, MRDS was inevitable with the national rise of the new telegenic, well-spoken, minority freshman U.S. Senator with an exotic past.
Remember when conservatives, following a 2007 Insight Magazine report, suggested Obama was educated in an Islamic madrassa as a child in Indonesia from the ages of 8 to 10?" Turns out, it wasn’t a madrassa — a school that inculcates fundamentalists Islam — just a private school.
Compare that story to the liberal New Yorker earlier this month, which blogged that Rubio was at least “half Mormon” because from the ages of 8-12 he was a member of, and had been baptized in, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
“Marco Rubio and the All-Mormon Ticket,” said the headline in the New Yorker’s blog, which was wrapped around the hokey premise that Rubio can’t be on Mormon Mitt Romney’s ticket because the Senator is a Mormon.
Rubio isn’t a Mormon. But for his ‘tween years, he was essentially raised a Catholic, then brought the family back to the Catholic Church and, save a dalliance or two with some Protestant churches, attends a Catholic church now.
But once a Mormon, always a Mormon to the left, where liberal writers from Salon to the New Yorker have recently tweeted offensive statements about the religion. The New Yorker once decried religion-baiting, as it did in May 2008 when it called the Obama-is-a-Muslim story “slander.”
In both Obama and Rubio’s cases, their political and media opponents use religion to help spook away voters by making the politicians unknown, mysterious and therefore objects of doubt.
Obama was the first major target of the so-called “birthers,” who say he wasn’t born in the United States. Therefore, they say, he’s not qualified to be president. Now, they say, Rubio isn’t really a natural-born U.S. citizen because his Cuban-born parents didn’t become citizens until 1975 — about four years after his birth in Miami.
The birthers did spot one clear inaccuracy, though: Rubio’s website improperly said his parents fled Fidel Castro’s Cuba. They didn’t. They fled Fulgencio Batista’s Cuba before Castro took over in 1959.
The report first appeared in the Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald. A day later, the Washington Post followed up by falsely implying Rubio had repeatedly and personally told the whopper. But he hadn’t. The Post then said that Rubio wasn’t technically a member of Miami’s Cuban exile community. That’s news to Miami’s Cuban exile community.
The liberal group American Bridge 21st Century — devoted to re-electing Obama – ran with the Rubio-exile story by posting a web video designed to make Rubio look like a liar.
So Rubio’s not just a phony exile. He’s not just a secret “half” Mormon. He’s also guilty of having “anti-Hispanic” views, the owner of Univision, Haim Saban, said in another New Yorker piece about Univision’s tussle with Rubio over the pro-immigrant Dream Act. The New Yorker, incidentally, failed to ask how the Hispanic lawmaker was really anti-Hispanic in his stances and didn’t mention that Saban is a top Democratic donor.
Armed with all these doubts about Rubio, the left-wing blogosphere is now wondering: why did the Florida press fail to vet the former House Speaker?
The question ignores the tough press Rubio has endured just from the Herald alone: using a secret budget maneuver to help a friend bid on a lucrative Florida Turnpike contract; failing to disclose a generous home loan tied to supporters; campaigning against budget earmarks while earmarking $250 billion in the Florida Legislature; striking up pricey consulting contracts with hospitals he helped steer money toward; big spending on a Republican Party of Florida credit card that drew the interest of federal investigators; railing against debt while making borrowing heavily in his private life; or allowing his Tallahassee home to go into foreclosure during a bank dispute.
For some in the national media and Rubio's opponents the rush is on to define Rubio and his past before the vice-presidential shortlister does it himself in his forthcoming book, "American Son," in which Rubio's office says he was planning to tell of his Mormon past and more...
Last week, MRDS reared up again when an Ohio reporter asked Romney if he backed the “Blunt-Rubio Amendment [that] deals with banning or allowing employers to ban providing female contraception.”
Technically, there is no “Blunt-Rubio Amendment.” It allowed employers or the insurance plans to not subsidize it, or any other health treatment they felt violated their religious freedoms.
Rubio, who has his own bill dealing with just contraception, was one of 23 co-sponsors of Blunt’s bill. Yet there was no mention of, say, a “Blunt-McConnell” bill. Massachusetts Democratic opponents of Sen. Scott Brown, though, called it a “Blunt-Brown” bill.
At least one liberal blogger noted the reason for calling it a “Blunt-Rubio” amendment: Make Rubio sound like “an ultra right-wing hack.” And numerous reporters have referred to Blunt’s bill as “Blunt-Rubio.”
As with the other distortions concerning Rubio (or Obama), an ounce of research would be a pound of cure when it comes to clearing up some of the inaccuracies. So though MRDS is showing no sign of letting up this election season, there is an antidote. It’s called “Google” and, for reporters with an account, “Nexis.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this column incorrectly noted that birthers believe Rubio is not a U.S. citizen. They do not believe he’s a natural-born citizen because his Cuban-born parents didn’t become U.S. citizens until four years after Rubio’s birth in Miami.

What You Need to Know About Today's Housing Announcement

President Barack Obama holds a press conference (March 6, 2012)
President Barack Obama holds a press conference in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, March 6, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)
In the State of the Union, President Obama introduced a basic principle: Every homeowner who is current on his or her payments ought to have a chance to refinance their mortgage at today's historically low rates.
To make that idea a reality for everyone, Congress must take action.
But today, the President is taking another step to make refinancing easier for millions of Americans who have government-sponsored mortgages. He's cutting fees -- to help families save money and make refinancing more attractive.
And at a press conference that just wrapped up, President Obama announced a series of steps aimed at helping homeowners who have served in the Armed Forces.
When the nation’s five largest mortgage servicers reached a settlement with the federal government and 49 state attorneys general, they agreed to provide substantial relief to the nation's veterans who were victims of wrongful foreclosures or who were otherwise disadvantaged in the mortgage process because of the obligations of their service.
Here's how veterans and their families will benefit because of the settlement:
  • Any service member who saw their home wrongfully foreclosed will be substantially compensated for what the bank did;
  • Any member of Armed Forces who was wrongfully denied the chance to refinance and reduce their mortgage payments through lower interest rates will receive a refund from their bank equal to the money he or she would have saved;
  • Many service members who lost money because they were forced due to sell their homes due to Permanent Change of Station orders will also receive relief; and
  • Finally, under the settlement, the banks will also pay $10 million into the Veterans Housing Benefit Program Fund, which guarantees loans on favorable terms for service members.

President Obama Holds a News Conference

March 06, 2012 | 44:05 | Public Domain

President Obama discusses new steps to support homeowners and their families as well as the situation in Iran.