Marco Rubio

Two Under-the-Radar Issues Attract Solutions, Not Slogans

As Congress bogs down on how to resolve immigration and gun violence challenges, no less serious problems of sex trafficking and paid family leave have attracted solution-searching instead of sloganeering and raise hopes for bipartisan compromises that could pass into law before the end of this year.

As Congress bogs down on how to resolve immigration and gun violence challenges, no less serious problems of sex trafficking and paid family leave have attracted solution-searching instead of sloganeering and raise hopes for bipartisan compromises that could pass into law before the end of this year.

As appropriations, immigration and guns dominate congressional headlines, two issues seem to be picking up bipartisan traction on Capitol Hill – paid family leave and sex trafficking.

President Trump has opened the door to paid family leave legislation. First daughter Ivanka Trump and GOP Senator Marco Rubio are teaming up on a proposal that would allow people to tap into their future Social Security benefits to pay for family leave. Congressional Democrats are pushing a more aggressive plan that would increase employee and employer payroll taxes to cover the cost of paid family leave.

Five states, including Washington, already require paid family leave. Eight states, including Oregon, have expanded the length of unpaid family leave. Most US workers are covered by the Family Medical Leave Act, which allows up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off for a newborn child or care for an aging parent. The City of New York expanded its family leave policy to include recuperation from domestic abuse.

Paid family leave is an issue that has attracted bipartisan interest because it impacts business productivity, employee satisfaction and family structure. The conservative American Enterprise Institute and the liberal Brookings Institution undertook a joint look at the issue of paid family leave and have been  blogging  about what they jointly concluded for the past year.

Paid family leave is an issue that has attracted bipartisan interest because it impacts business productivity, employee satisfaction and family structure. The conservative American Enterprise Institute and the liberal Brookings Institution undertook a joint look at the issue of paid family leave and have been blogging about what they jointly concluded for the past year.

Supporters of paid family leave point to data showing only 14 percent of US workers have access to paid family leave through their employers. Most employees, they suggest, cannot afford to take off long amounts of unpaid leave. 

Opponents say mandating paid family leave will make it more expensive to hire employees and lead to fewer jobs. Businesses are caught in the middle and disapprove of what has become a patchwork of family leave policies state to state and, in some cases, community to community.

NPR ran a story that included a vignette about Joe Fain, a Washington state senator, who took an unpaid leave when his son was born and became an advocate for the benefit. At the time, the City of Seattle had adopted expanded leave policies, which led businesses to push the state legislature to act. Fain says, in the same way, states are now pushing for federal action.

While the various sides of this issue aren’t close to a compromise, there is broad agreement that paid family leave is important to getting newborns off to a good start and to helping families cope with illnesses by aging parents.

Senator Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican, is pushing hard for legislation to protect potential sex trafficking victims and make online websites liable if they enable sex trafficking. His bill, called Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act, has attracted 60 congressional cosponsors and is supported by law enforcement, civil rights and faith-based groups.

Portman says he became interested in the subject after meeting with Ohio constituents who described incidents of sex trafficking in their communities, in many cases associated with opioid abuse. Portman says sex trafficking is big business that has increased, despite tougher penalties, because of what he called the “ruthless efficiency” of the “dark side of the internet.” He blames an 850 percent increase in sex trafficking since 2015 on the “emergence of companies like Backpage.com, which probably has about 75 percent of the commercial sex traffic on one site.”

Some technology companies have pushed back on Portman’s cure of removing legal immunity for online platforms, claiming it would expose the companies behind those platforms to lawsuits for content their users post. Loss of legal immunity, they say, could chill continuing development and expansion of online platforms.

While paid family leave and sex trafficking solutions will require answering significant policy questions, they may provide Congress with an easier avenue to address serious social problems plaguing America than trying to reform immigration policy or agree on ways to stem gun violence. If nothing else, these complex issues have not been reduced to polarizing slogans, which is allowing for collaborative conversations and potential bipartisan compromises.

Paul Ryan: Designated Relief Pitcher

A desperate GOP establishment has tried pinch hitters and pinch runners to prevent Donald Trump from winning the Republican presidential nomination and now may turn to its successful designated relief pitcher, Paul Ryan.

A desperate GOP establishment has tried pinch hitters and pinch runners to prevent Donald Trump from winning the Republican presidential nomination and now may turn to its successful designated relief pitcher, Paul Ryan.

A move is afoot to draft Paul Ryan as a GOP presidential candidate, which would confirm the Wisconsin Republican’s role as his party's designated relief pitcher.

Ryan, with seeming reluctance, saved the day by agreeing to serve as House Speaker after conservatives drove John Boehner out of the game and objected to other candidates. Ryan was cast as the only Republican that all factions could support.

That’s the thinking behind the Draft Speaker Ryan movement. The Republican Party is in disarray. Donald Trump is leading the presidential pack, but a faceless GOP establishment cabal is desperately trying to block him from winning the nomination. The party’s 2012 standard bearer has called out Trump as a con man and a phony. Marco Rubio has said Trump wet his pants and has tiny hands.

Beyond a distrust and dislike for Trump, Republican establishment figures worry that another Democrat will succeed President Obama. Some have concluded the only viable alternative to defeat this fall is Ryan.

Ted Cruz has made inroads on Trump’s march to the nomination, winning in Kansas and Maine over the weekend and inching closer to Trump’s delegate total. But Cruz could be the only GOP figure detested more than Trump.

Earle Mack, a former ambassador to Finland under President George W. Bush, spearheaded a $1 million Super PAC to draft Ryan. As he did to importuning to become House Speaker, Ryan has dismissed the draft movement and disavowed the SuperPac in a letter to the Federal Election Commission.

It is hard for Ryan to deny an interest in the nation’s top job. He was Romney’s running mate in 2012 and in the eyes of many political observers outshone the top guy on the ballot. Ryan has injected himself into the presidential primary by deploring Trump's racially charged statements.

As Speaker, Ryan has quieted the conservative rebellion, even as he pushed through controversial budget bills. Conservative members said they still disagree with compromising and relying on Democratic votes, but they support Ryan because he has reached out to them and listened.

Ryan has pushed the conservative agenda, but also promised more than just red meat, including a comprehensive health care plan to replace Obamacare.

The 2016 presidential election has been anything but normal, with insults dominating policy discussions, a billionaire activating citizens who feel economically disenfranchised and a socialist seriously challenging the inevitability of Hillary Clinton’s nomination.

A brokered GOP presidential convention could be the perfect setting for a relief pitcher to trot in from the bullpen. Nobody has stronger credentials to become the party’s closer than Paul Ryan.

Rubio Courts Suburban Voters to Dethrone Trump

Marco Rubio is banking on suburban voters to give him the political momentum to derail Donald Trump en route to the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

Marco Rubio is banking on suburban voters to give him the political momentum to derail Donald Trump en route to the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

Donald Trump is appealing to fed-up voters. Ted Cruz is wooing religious conservatives. Jeb Bush tried to appeal to establishment Republicans. Now Marco Rubio is pursuing a strategy to court suburban voters.

As time is running out in the GOP presidential primary to derail a Trump nomination, Rubio hopes to coalesce all Republican primary voters who haven’t or don’t want to vote for the New York billionaire. So far in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, Rubio’s best headline has been that he is “surging.” Pretty quickly, he will have to surge into first place somewhere. 

In a contest seemingly dominated by political segmentation, Rubio and his campaign advisers have chosen to chase suburbanites. Instead of seeking out enclaves of self-identified evangelical voters, Rubio is on the hunt for support in places like Fairfax, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, D.C. He also is campaigning in suburban areas of Denver, Atlanta, Boston, Birmingham and Nashville in the lead-up to major primaries.

According to The Washington Post, Rubio’s “Ankeny Strategy” – Ankeny is a suburb of Des Moines, Iowa – is aimed at voters who relate to the Florida senator. “They can identify with his modest background, his young children and the student loans he had to pay off,” the Post reports. “There are Ankenys all over the country,” says Rich Beeson, Rubio’s deputy campaign manager.

Rubio's campaign points to the candidate’s strong showing in South Carolina’s two most populous counties, which delivered Rubio a narrow second-place finish over Cruz, thanks to successful outreach to suburban voters.

Rubio isn’t the first politician to see the value of suburban voters. Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, who endorsed Rubio this week, followed that strategy to win the statehouse in a typically blue state.

The underlying Rubio message is that Trump’s appeal is limited, topping out at perhaps 35 to 40 percent of the GOP base. Rubio argues he has conservative credentials to win over Trump and Cruz partisans, while still appealing to swing voters in the suburbs.

Not that long ago, suburban areas such as Beaverton and Hillsboro were reliable Republican strongholds. But the political ground has shifted, making it harder for Republicans to hold on to legislative and congressional seats. Rubio eyes these potential swing areas as the real battleground for the White House this fall.

The Rubio suburban strategy appears to have more political leg than Bush’s failed approach of appealing to the so-called Republican establishment. This strategy also hints at why Rubio has been reluctant to joust publicly with Trump – he believes he can overtake Trump and weld together a broad coalition that includes his backers, many of whom have returned to the political conversation because of Trump.

Regardless of the merits of Rubio’s suburban strategy, he still has to win a primary somewhere, certainly in Florida, his home state, but somewhere else, too. It would seem, based on suburban demographics, his best chances are in Virginia, Georgia, Tennessee, Colorado and Minnesota. Georgia, Tennessee and Virginia hold their primaries March 1, as part of the so-called SEC Primary. Colorado and Minnesota hold caucuses the same day. If Rubio doesn’t snag a win in one or more of those states, his suburban strategy may have hit a fatal roadblock on Trump’s road to the nomination.

Different Reactions to Foreign, Domestic Shootings

The Paris terrorist attack has drawn calls for swift action by many political figures who were largely silent in the wake of the shootings at Umpqua Community College.

The Paris terrorist attack has drawn calls for swift action by many political figures who were largely silent in the wake of the shootings at Umpqua Community College.

The terrorist attack in Paris has prompted demands for swift action by American political figures who were largely silent after recent shootings at Umpqua Community College.

GOP presidential candidates, such as Marco Rubio, said the United States should refuse to accept any Syrian refugees because "they are too hard to vet." Several Republican governors said they wouldn't let Syrian refugees into their states. Jeb Bush advocated for only allowing in refugees who are Christians.

Others called President Obama's strategy too timid and urged stronger military measures, including in a few cases putting U.S. ground forces into the Syrian fray. Presidential hopeful Donald Trump publicly toyed with the idea of closing mosques.

Ironically, most of the Republican officials expressing outrage over the Paris incident were largely silent in the wake of the domestic attack at UCC and other shootings that involved the deaths of American citizens.

Catastrophic events generate outrage and windbaggery. Political finger-pointing follows, too. But that doesn't fully justify the sharp difference in response to foreigners killing Frenchmen as opposed to Americans killing Americans.

People who follow U.S. politics understand the reason for reticence in addressing domestic gun violence – the National Rifle Association and its major sponsors, gun manufacturers. As best we can tell, the NRA has no qualms if politicians rail against gun violence overseas.

Outrage at the indiscriminate carnage in Paris is near universal. It is hard to quarrel with French President Francois Hollande's declaration that the attacks we're an "act of war." It is also hard to dispute that tougher measures may be required to defeat ISIS, which took credit for the Paris massacre.

However, the rage aimed at Syrian refugees seems misplaced. Yes, one of the assailants in Paris apparently smuggled himself into Europe masquerading as a refugee. There well could be other ISIS operatives who have entered Europe under the same guise. But the vast majority of refugees really are refugees, trying to escape from a place where their national leader drops barrel bombs on them and insurgents who enslave and behead them.

Major events in the past, such as the 9/11 attacks in New York City, have unified political leadership. That doesn't seem to be the fashion now. Republicans have blamed Obama for the rise of ISIS. Obama has responded defensively and basically said Republicans have no workable plan to stop ISIS.

New House Speaker Paul Ryan got a taste of political venom when Mike Huckabee called him out for not being strong enough in blocking Syrian refugees, even after Ryan gave an interview saying, "What matters to me is not only do we prevent people from coming in, but we don't bring them in. We've got to make sure we're protecting ourselves."

Where was all that energy when American blood was spilled? Where was the concern about vetting bad actors with guns on our own soil?

Bumper Crop of Candidates for Satire

Hillary Clinton wheeling around Iowa in her Scooby van is just the tip of the satirical iceberg for the latest bumper crop of presidential wannabes.

Hillary Clinton wheeling around Iowa in her Scooby van is just the tip of the satirical iceberg for the latest bumper crop of presidential wannabes.

People choose political candidates for lots of reasons, including how well they can be parodied on shows like Saturday Night Live. This year's presidential field looks like a bummer crop of candidates who will provide the ridiculous comments and embarrassing moments that brighten up late-night TV.

Hillary Clinton's official entrance into the presidential sweepstakes over the weekend touched off a wave of negative blasts from political conservatives. But the writers at SNL were licking their chops as the former First Lady headed to Iowa to campaign in a van named "Scooby." You can see the skit take shape.

Clinton faces no serious Democratic challenger so far, so may have to run a shadow-boxing campaign against make-believe opponents. That will be funny to watch on Saturday nights.

Rand Paul entered the race last week and immediately engaged in a series of testy media interviews. This may be a ploy by Paul and his team to "expose" the liberal news media, even though some fellow Republicans thought it "exposed" Paul as an angry candidate. SNL couldn't be happier. It hasn't had a candidate this petulant to parody since Ross Perot.

Ted Cruz was the first candidate to dive officially into the presidential waters. Shunning his home state of Texas as a backdrop, Cruz made his announcement at Liberty University, where, as he often does, Cruz took liberties with facts. His candidacy will excite both SNL and its satirical sister, Fox News.

The latest to join the fray is Marco Rubio, who chose a historic setting in Miami to emphasize his roots from Cuban immigrants. Rubio was one of the key Senate brokers on an immigration reform bill that is anathema to a large chunk of the GOP voters he must now try to woo. The skit almost writes itself of Rubio speaking Spanish to a clump of Iowa farmers.

Soon Jeb Bush is expected to declare his candidacy, unless he plans to turn his sizable campaign warchest into a private hedge fund. The prospect of a Bush III versus Clinton II campaign next fall will inspire all sorts of satire from just about every segment of the political spectrum.

Lindsey Graham, the just re-elected senator from South Carolina who often appears like an aide-de-camp of former GOP presidential nominee John McCain, is exploring a presidential run. It will be too tempting, if he does run, not to spoof him as the grizzled McCain's youthful protege – think Dick Cheney and George W. Bush.

And these are just the big rollers. There are dark horses roaming around the countryside that could add even more comic fizz to the mix. Voters may rue that the presidential election has started, but people who love comedy can wait for the satire to start.

Student Right to Know Before You Go Act

As many students ponder whether to go and how to pay for college, Congress is considering legislation to give them more comparable data — and maybe continue low interest rates on student loans.Oregon Senator Ron Wyden is capturing national headlines for his push for more sunshine on government snooping. But he also wants more sunshine to help students assess college programs for graduation rates, projected earnings and debt loads before they enroll.

The Student Right to Know Before You Go Act has been introduced with bipartisan sponsors in the U.S. House and Senate. Democrat Wyden is teamed up in the Senate with Florida GOP Senator Marco Rubio.

Much as he has on the issue of personal privacy in the face of massive government surveillance, Wyden is pressing for more transparency. "There's no question everyone needs access to higher education," Wyden says, "but it's time to bring value into the equation. This bipartisan legislation would allow people to understand where they can expect their educational choices to take them in the real world."

Cherry Blossoms and Compromise Bloom

Suddenly Congress is abloom with cherry blossoms and compromises on gun control and immigration reform, a vote to break a Senate filibuster and a presidential budget proposal that angered both Republicans and Democrats.

Granted most of the activity was in the Senate, which has stirred from paralysis in response to the 2012 election and fast-moving demographic changes that could reshape the nation's electoral map. Even Congressman Paul Ryan — the chief budget warrior in the GOP-controlled House — signaled the possibility of a deal with President Barack Obama, despite Speaker John Boehner calling it a plan for deficit spending forever.

The political fault lines haven't evaporated, but leading Republicans are eager to seize the moment to repair tattered relations with minority voters, who vote heavily Democratic, and suburban voters, who are emerging as the key swing votes in many states. Both constituencies balk at some of the more extreme GOP positions.

GOP ballot box failures with African-American and Latino voters were highlighted in Obama's victory last fall. But more important are signs that more bedrock red states such as Texas and Arizona are seeing a marked shift toward the political middle or beyond. That has led to a new political pliancy by the likes of Senators John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina on immigration.

Paul Ryan and the Wikipedia War

Paul Ryan's selection as Mitt Romney's running mate ignited a war on Wikipedia over whether it was relevant to note his high school voted him as the biggest brown noser. Photo by Gage Skidmore.The selection over the weekend of Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan as Mitt Romney's Republican running mate  touched off a wave of pro and con commentary. None was more pitched than a series of edits and counter-edits to Paul Ryan's Wikipedia page.

The focus of the Wikipedia Wars quickly zeroed in on a 1988 reference in Ryan's high school yearbook that listed him as the "Biggest Brown-Noser."

Ryan sympathizers swept in to scrub the reference as irrelevant, but the vigilant opposition countered and put back the brown-nose reference, declaring it was relevant. The battle waged on with hundreds of revisions, including mention that Ryan was prom king his senior year.

Actually, a spate of Wikipedia edits in a politician's profile has now become a semi-official perch to judge whether a vice presidential candidate's stock is rising or falling. 

Writing for The Atlantic, Megan Garber said reporters staked out the various Wikipedia pages of leading vice presidential candidates to see which one had the most editorial activity, a clue to who might get the nod. She noted that short-listers Rob Portman, Bobby Jindal, Marco Rubio and Ryan each had about the same amount of pre-announcement editing.

This was in sharp contrast, Garber said, to 2008 when Sarah Palin's Wikipedia page was edited 68 times the day before John McCain's surprise announcement of her as his running mate.

Political mischief-maker Stephen Colbert, perhaps miffed because he wasn't on anyone's short list, openly encouraged people to "go on Wikipedia and make as many edits as possible to your favorite VP contender." Wikipedia locked down the pages of the short-listers, which sucked the air out of Colbert's party.