Obama Sees No Cause for Panic Over Zika, Yet Asks for Nearly $2 Billion in Emergency Funds

The Zika virus, which originated in Brazil, now has several confirmed cases in the United States. The infection has forced thousands of people to cancel their travel plans and is even threatening to disrupt the summer Olympic games in Rio De Janeiro. Yet, President Obama is trying assure Americans that the virus is not as scary as it sounds. 

Zika is spread through mosquito bites and causes fever-like symptoms, yet only in rare cases does it require hospitalization. During an interview with CBS this Sunday, Obama insisted there is no cause for alarm and that the threat is nowhere near as serious as Ebola:

 "There shouldn't be panic on this. This is not something where people are going to die from it. It is something we have to take seriously," he said.

Yet, that doesn’t mean the president isn’t taking precautionary measures.

President Obama will ask Congress for $1.8 billion in emergency funding to combat the Zika virus through mosquito control programs, vaccine research, education and improving health care for low-income pregnant women, the White House said Monday.

As for where the money is going to come from, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Congress will “have to work out” how to pay for the funding.

In the same CBS interview, Obama reiterated how Zika pales in comparison to the severity of contracting Ebola, yet he did note that pregnant women are especially at risk:

"The good news is this is not like Ebola. People don't die of Zika. A lot of people get it and don't even know that they have it," Obama said. "What we now know, though, is that there appears to be some significant risk for pregnant women or women who are thinking about getting pregnant."

The nations of Colombia, EcuadorEl Salvador and Jamaica all urged women to delay pregnancy, noting the high rate of birth defects in Brazil, reports USA Today.

If we are spending $2 billion on the effort to combat Zika, is the president dangerously downplaying the threat?

So Much For 'Hiding': GOP Debate Ratings Highest for 2016, Crush Democratic Debate

On Saturday, DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz invented the holiday of Super Bowl Eve and accused the RNC of attempting to "hide" their debate in the buildup to the big game.

As it turns out, Republicans are terrible hiders: the debate drew 13.2 million viewers, and was the highest-rated debate of 2016.

Conversely, the hastily-planned, last-minute DNC debate, on a weekday, drew about a third of that total: 4.5 million viewers, the lowest of any debate by any party this election cycle.

In response to the pushback to her accusation that the Republicans were trying to hide their debate during a football game (something she'd be familiar with considering the Democrats literally did just that) Wasserman Schultz tweeted an odd claim that her party's debates "set viewer records."

Perhaps she means record lows?

November Surprise: Obamacare Rate Hikes to Hit Just Before Election


One of the biggest reasons why Congressional Republicans' successful effort to defund the so-called Obamacare bailouts to insurers was so important -- aside from saving taxpayers billions, of course -- is that it guarantees voters will feel the law's impact in 2016. The "risk corridor" programs were designed to use taxpayer dollars to paper over insurers' Obamacare-related losses early on in the program, in order to delay the inevitable reckoning on costs and rates. The new, more transparent reality is that many Americans will learn of their new premium increases just before heading to the polls in November. The Washington Examiner's Philip Klein has the details:

In trying to stave off a challenge from socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has whole-heartedly embraced Obamacare, promising to build on it. "Before it was called Obamacare, it was called Hillarycare," she has been saying regularly on the campaign trail. She'll own Obamacare and its problems going into the general election assuming she's the nominee, and according to the schedule put out by HHS, insurers who wish to participate in Obamacare will have to submit their initial rates in the late spring. After back and forth with HHS over the summer, they'll start to become finalized in the fall. That means for months leading up to the election, voters are going to be hearing more and more about staggering rate increases coming in 2017. And this year, open enrollment – when individuals shopping for insurance can start to go online and see the premiums on new plans -- begins on Nov. 1, or just one week before the election. This means that for the months, weeks, and days leading up to the election, the Democratic presidential nominee and all of the party's Congressional candidates are going to have to contend with news of sky-rocking rates coming from Obamacare as insurers struggle to make the business profitable. Considering that Republicans owe their current House and Senate majorities to Obamacare, this should be a scary thought for Democrats.

Yes, Obamacare is Hillary care -- and yes, she's doubling-down on its failure as a means of bludgeoning Bernie Sanders' unaffordable single-payer fantasy. Klein runs through additional indicators of Obamacare's "rocky start" to 2016:

On Thursday, the Department of Health and Human Services reported that fewer than 13 million individuals signed up for Obamacare plans for 2016. Though the administration is trying to argue that this 12.7 million number beat expectations, nobody is buying it...This is significantly lower than the 21 million individuals the Congressional Budget Office initially projected the law would signup in 2016, below the downwardly revised 13 million CBO projection, and effectively flat from a year ago. Perhaps even more significant than the headline number, HHS also revealed that just 28 percent of those who signed up for coverage are between the ages of 18 and 34 – which is the same proportion as last year, and well south of the 40 percent target that HHS said was crucial to the exchanges remaining viable...During the initial botched launch of Obamacare in late 2013 and early 2014, there was a theoretical debate about whether the risk pool would be stable. But that is no longer theoretical. Insurers have now had a chance to look at actual claims data from Obamacare enrollees, and it isn't encouraging for insurers.

Because of these low enrollment numbers and older, sicker risk pools, an adverse selection problem is developing. This, in turn, is costing (non-bailed-out) insurers, some of whom are hinting that they'll exit the marketplace. Because of the law's additional provisions, premiums are continuing to increase, often sharply; a central political promise destroyed. And it's not just the rising rates that are the problem. For many consumers, the worst part of this raw deal is the sticker shock of unaffordable out-of-pocket costs that must be paid out before insurance coverage even kicks in. The New York Times reports:

Deductibles and other forms of cost-sharing have been creeping up in the United States since the late 1990s. A typical employer health plan now asks an individual to pay more than $1,000 out of pocket before coverage kicks in for most services. The most popular plans on the Affordable Care Act exchanges require customers to pay several times as much. Even Medicare charges deductibles...The other problem with high deductibles is the obvious one: Many Americans simply do not have the savings to afford them. In partnership with the Kaiser Family Foundation, we recently conducted a survey of Americans struggling with their medical bills. A substantial fraction of them could not pay their deductibles and were left with tough choices about how to cut thousands of dollars from their household budgets to pay for health care. For those people, deductibles often seem like an unfair trick, or a feature that makes insurance worthless. More than 3,000 readers wrote us about that medical debt article, many deploring high deductible health plans that had put them in financial distress.

The "Affordable" Care Act forces people to pay for very expensive coverage that they can't even use until they blow through thousands in out-of-pocket expenses, which they already can't afford.  According to the Kaiser study referenced in the piece, 62 percent of those who says they can't pay their medical bills are insured.  I'll leave you with the healthcare portion of Saturday night's debate, in which Donald Trump dissembled his way through a clumsy answer trying to explain why his vision for universal, government-paid-for healthcare doesn't place him closer to Bernie Sanders than even Hillary Clinton on this issue:



Seeing Red: Clinton Considers Axing Staff In New Hampshire

Hillary Clinton, the prohibitive nominee for the Democratic Party, barely pulled through in Iowa, and is expected to be slaughtered by her primary opponent, Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT), in New Hampshire by double-digits. It should come as no surprise that Hillary isn’t too pleased; mulling whom to cut pending her more than likely defeat tomorrow night. Yet, the street goes both ways. Politico published a piece today, which used mostly unnamed sources, that indicated the Clinton staff is equally frustrated, especially with how the former first lady dragged her feet on the email controversy:

“The Clintons are not happy, and have been letting all of us know that,” said one Democratic official who speaks regularly to both. “The idea is that we need a more forward-looking message, for the primary – but also for the general election too… There’s no sense of panic, but there is an urgency to fix these problems right now.”

[…]

The focus of their dissatisfaction in recent days is the campaign’s top pollster and strategist Joel Benenson, whom one Clinton insider described as being “on thin ice,” as the former first couple vented its frustrations about messaging following Clinton’s uncomfortably close 0.25 percent win in last week’s caucuses. Benenson, multiple staffers and operatives say, has been equally frustrated with the Clintons’ habit of tapping a rolling cast of about a dozen outside advisers – who often have the candidate’s ear outside the official channels of communication.

The result is a muddled all-the-above messaging strategy that emphasizes different messages – and mountains of arcane policy proposals – in stark contrast to Bernie Sanders’ punchy and relentless messaging on income inequality.

[…]

But from the beginning, there have been deeper issues simmering within the cheerfully-decorated Brooklyn headquarters -- and much of that had to do with a disconnect between the candidate and her campaign. Over the summer while her campaign was bogged down in the email controversy, Clinton was deeply frustrated with her own staff, and vice versa. The candidate blamed her team for not getting her out of the mess quickly, and her team blamed Clinton for being stubbornly unwilling to take the advice of campaign chairman John Podesta and others to apologize, turn over her server, and move on. The entire experience made her a deeply vulnerable frontrunner out of the gate, and underscored a lack of trust between Clinton and her operatives, many of whom were former Obama staffers that she didn't consider part of her inner circle of trust.

As with many situations with the Clintons, the drama level is high. It’s a soap opera. And from these reports, a loose confederacy of top dogs botching the messaging, which probably explains why she’s gone down in the polls–along with why she’ll have trouble getting out. Last August, the Des Moines Register noted that her support has dropped by a third–and that the old Obama coalition seemed to be drifting to Sanders. A disorganized staff, coupled with a candidate who already is a bad campaigner, is a recipe for lackluster results, which is what we’re seeing.

Yet, this staff shakeup also seems to show signs that Clinton is thinking of her firewall in the South, where the electorate is more diverse and favorable to her. By the numbers, she should be able to trounce Sanders onward from South Carolina primary, but this double-digit blowout might have her preparing a shake up just in case some more cracks in her firewall appear in the days to come. Regardless, while some might note how Trump has caused chaos in the GOP primary, Democrats have a fragile frontrunner and a disheveled democratic socialist with horrible ideas vying to be the left’s standard-bearer this year.

Chris Christie Not Afraid to 'Get on One Knee' for a Vote

Governor Chris Christie was in New Hampshire Monday campaigning for the GOP primary on Tuesday and was willing to do just about anything to get one woman's vote.  

At one point during his town hall event in Hudson, New Hampshire, a woman introduced herself as an undecided voter who was leaning toward supporting him but wasn’t quite convinced.  The New Jersey governor proceeded to kneel down on one knee, proposal-style, and ask for her vote.

"I hope she votes for me. I’ve got dirt all over my pants,” Christie said after listening to her.

Christie gave the woman his plans to cut the Social Security debt which includes eliminating Social Security benefits for Americans who bring in more than $200,000 per year in retirement.

"Do you need a $1,200 Social Security check a month if you're making $200,000 a year in retirement?  I don't think so," Christie said.   

After Getting Police Escort, Beyonce Spews Black Lives Matter Message at Super Bowl

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani was no fan of the Super Bowl 50 halftime show – particularly the part where Beyoncé showed up. Appearing on “Fox and Friends” Monday morning, he was outraged that the artist clearly used her performance to convey an anti-police message. Her backup dancers, it appeared, were dressed as members of the Black Panther Party. Fox News offers a detailed explanation of their controversial outfits:

Clad in a black leotard with a gold embellished jacket, Beyoncé was flanked by dancers who sported afros and black berets, reportedly in reference to the Black Panther Party. Beyoncé’s outfit was also a nod to Michael Jackson.

The dancers also appeared to make a symbol that paid tribute to Malcolm X.

Giuliani responded to her performance by insisting politics has no place on the football field:

"Can't you [the Super Bowl organizers] figure out who you're putting on? I mean this is a political position, she's probably going to take advantage of it. You're talking to middle America when you have the Super Bowl, so you can have entertainment. Let's have, you know, decent wholesome entertainment, and not use it as a platform to attack the people who, you know, put their lives at risk to save us."

The controversy actually began a day before Beyoncé’s Super Bowl performance, when she released the music video for her new single, “Formation.” The video appeared to make references to the Black Lives Matter movement and featured a young man who resembled Trayvon Martin, an African-American male killed by George Zimmerman in Florida a few years ago. In 2013, a jury acquitted Zimmerman of any wrongdoing, ruling he had acted in self-defense. The decision resulted in rioting and looting. Similar scenarios played out in Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland, where angry rioters threatened police and torched their cities.

Citizens have no right to act like criminals when a court case doesn’t go their way. Yet, this appears to be exactly the kind of behavior Black Lives Matter encourages. Katie wrote an important piece on the controversial movement last year, equating it to a “racist, violent hate group” that promotes cop killing. She had plenty of evidence to back up her claim.

One final point: “Fox and Friends” host Anna Kooiman noted that Beyoncé “got a police escort there” before she saluted the Black Lives Matter movement. 

Female Bernie Sanders Fans Are Angry At Being Told It's "Their Duty" To Support Hillary Clinton

Women who consider themselves to be supporters of Democratic candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) are none to please with suggestions by prominent feminist Gloria Steinem and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright that they are betraying their gender for not supporting Hillary Clinton.

Appearing on HBO's Real Time With Bill Maher, Steinem said that younger women, while more feminist and involved in activism than older women, were flocking to Sanders over Clinton because more boys were supporters of Sanders and they wanted to be around men.

"They're going to get more activist as they get older," Steinem said. "And when you're young, you're thinking, 'Where are the boys?' The boys are with Bernie."

Steinem later apologized for the comment on her Facebook page.

In a case of talk-show Interruptus, I misspoke on the Bill Maher show recently, and apologize for what's been...

Posted by Gloria Steinem on Sunday, February 7, 2016

The next day, Albright, speaking at a Clinton rally, said there was a "special place in hell" for women who don't help each other.

Needless to say, many Sanders supporters were not thrilled with the idea that they were somehow being a bad woman or bad feminist by not supporting Clinton, and found Albright and Steinem's remarks to be incredibly condescending.

We are canvassing in New Hampshire for Bernie not to impress boys, but to make a difference #nothereforboys #feministsforbernie

Posted by Millennials For Bernie Sanders on Sunday, February 7, 2016

Why I’m one of the #feministsforbernie — and I won't apologize for it! https://t.co/ODpCzRnChW from @EcoSexuality pic.twitter.com/l2b1gxhvsF

— Jewish Daily Forward (@jdforward) February 8, 2016

While I'm the furthest thing from a Sanders supporter, as a woman who is involved in politics and has been involved for a long time, I'd be equally as angry as these women are if someone told me that I was only supporting a candidate in order to attract the male gaze. That's the opposite of feminist thought, and it's a sign of how desperate the Clinton camp is getting.

Would Sanders Have Won Iowa If He Attacked Hillary On Her Email Fiasco?

The Iowa Democratic Caucus last Monday night was a shambles, with the Des Moines Register calling on the state’s Democratic Party to order an audit of the precinct that reportedly had irregular tallies. The Iowan Democratic Party initially rejected calls to review the totals, but relented over the weekend. They’ve since been revised, with Clinton again eking out a win (via The Hill):

The Iowa Democratic Party on Sunday updated the results of the Iowa caucuses after discovering discrepancies in the tallies at five precincts, but the final outcome remains unchanged.

Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton still places first in the caucuses with 700.47 state delegate equivalents, or 49.84 percent, the party said in a statement.

Primary rival Bernie Sanders comes in second with 696.92 state delegate equivalents, or 49.59 percent.

The total net change gives Sanders an additional 0.1053 state delegate equivalents and strips Clinton of 0.122 state delegate equivalents.

Would have hitting Hillary over her email controversy put him over the top? It’s hard to see how it wouldn’t have given the close voter totals, coupled with the excitement and energy drifting towards the Sanders camp in this primary. Additionally, it’s the most visible, and highly publicized, flaw the Clinton camp has in this election cycle. As the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza wrote prior to the Caucuses:

Clinton had long maintained that the leaks of information regarding classified information on her private email server were largely the result of an overzealous intelligence community and part of a broader interagency spat. State finding the same thing that the intelligence community had found regarding what was on Clinton's server suggests that her narrative has been disrupted in a serious way.

On its face, the State Department news seems like just the sort of thing that might tip wavering Iowa Democrats to Sanders's side. In fact, the email issue plays into a broader general-election argument that Sanders has been making in the closing weeks before the Iowa caucuses: That he is a stronger general-election candidate than Clinton.

[…]

Politics is about contrasts. For Sanders, the mishegas surrounding Clinton's email server is a perfect way to remind people of their doubts and worries about going back to the Clinton way of politics — and to cast himself as a new and different kind of pol. (Yes, it's weird that a 74-year-old man is the "new" kind of politician, but for Sanders it sells.)

He chose not to do that — at least not directly. If Sanders comes up short in Iowa, expect there to be some significant second-guessing in his campaign over that fateful decision.

His colleague, Greg Sargent, argued that if Sanders went after Clinton’s emails–he would undercut a core part of his campaign’s narrative:

The Sanders candidacy is premised on the idea that our political system is failing people in a very profound and fundamental way — that it has been rendered paralyzed in the face of the immense challenges the country faces. For Sanders, the political media’s obsession with the Clinton email story simply represents another way in which our system is broken so irrevocably that it is incapable of addressing those challenges.

[…]

Now, I don’t claim to know whether Sanders’s decision to refrain from attacking Clinton’s email setup is entirely rooted in a principled adherence to this broader story he’s trying to tell. For all I know, if Sanders doesn’t win Iowa, and if his candidacy looks like it’s in some trouble, perhaps he will begin going after her emails, to undermine her integrity and case for electability. But it’s hard to see how he could do this without diluting one of the ingredients most crucial to giving his candidacy the power it has gathered, particularly given that his own previous handling of the email story has transformed it into a massive symbol of everything he’s running against.

Sanders barely lost Iowa, and he’s poised to win big in New Hampshire. But we shall see if this truce over the emails last when the Democratic primary takes a cruise into the south, where Sanders isn’t well known. And where Clinton has an apparent lock on black Democratic primary voters. This is her firewall.

Yet, there could be an area where Sanders could go after Hillary incredibly hard if he’s serious about winning: her donations to the Clinton Foundation.

Sen. Sanders has questioned Hillary’s progressive bona fides since she has a super PAC and takes donations from Wall Street. He noted in the last Democratic debate before the primary how certain policies may have certainly been influenced by large donations from certain industries. There are plenty of instances where Clinton has changed her mind on trade policy after donations were made to the Clinton Foundation, rewarded nations with arms deals after checks to the Foundation were cut, and other interests giving Bill millions for paid speeches, who also had “matters before Mrs. Clinton’s State Department” at the time. Granted, the latter example is more of an ethical question, but the timing of donations and good things happening to the party handing over the check certainly poses a serious question about whether Clinton is truly independent.

If Bernie doesn’t think that there’s anything fishy about these donations, their consequences, and the ethical questions relating to the Foundation, then he’s not serious about winning. Yes, it’s not in the news as often as Mrs. Clinton’s email drama… yet. It should be. And if it doesn’t become as hot a topic as Hillary’s emails, then we’ve opened another area of media scrutiny.

Video: Personal Stories, Powerful Answers at GOP Debate


One critical political metric on which Democrats often vastly outperform Republicans pertains to the question of caring about people. This so-called 'empathy gap' is a major explanatory factor behind Barack Obama's re-election victory over Mitt Romney, and it's one of several reasons why Hillary Clinton is a risky bet for Democrats in 2016, beyond the email scandal and ethical struggles. Maybe the GOP is finally starting to learn and adapt. At Saturday's Republican debate, several candidates gave outstanding answers related to policy matters that were very personal in nature, and even emotionally moving. Connecting with voters requires making policy points while appealing to people's hearts. Here are four examples of Republicans achieving this balance in front of millions of viewers:

(1) Ted Cruz on drug addiction. Cruz, who is sometimes criticized for being too slick and calculating, opened up on a very personal level in his discussion of the impact of drug addiction on his family. He spoke about the tragic case of his half-sister, who died of an overdose, and tied her story into his signature issue of border control. I can tell you that you could hear a pin drop in the debate's media filing center as Cruz relayed this heartbreaking story:


(2) Rubio on his brother's struggles with the VA.  The Republican field as a whole offered a much more substantive and forward-looking discussion of the VA's failures than the Democrats did on Thursday night.  While Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders defended a failed status quo, lobbing disingenuous grenades at Republicans and attacking the Koch brothers (!) in their responses, Republicans talked about the importance of solving problems and guaranteeing veterans strong options for care.  Marco Rubio personalized the issue by raising an example about his brother, who has battled the VA for decades over simple dental care arising from an accident suffered while he was serving with the US Army's special forces:


In spite of all the talk about Rubio's repetition debacle during the Christie confrontation, Rubio citation of his brother's situation was by far the most Googled event of the debate, from any candidate. Cruz's story about his sister came in second:


The Washington Post  writes that after Google released search trends in New Hampshire alone, "Rubio dominated during the second half of the debate, where he performed much better. The media (like me) makes a lot out of fights like the one he had with Christie. But voters maybe are paying less attention to it."  Team Marco undoubtedly hopes that's the case.  But look at that chart again.  For all the buzzy media moments on Saturday night, the two events after which the most Americans opened up their browsers to seek more information about a candidate occurred when Rubio and Cruz spoke about their siblings, tying those anecdotes to serious national problems.

(3) Chris Christie on raising his daughters.  In the context of a question about women registering for the draft (on which Bush, Rubio and Christie seemed to be in agreement, prompting a strong Cruz dissent after the debate), the New Jersey governor described the values he and his wife have instilled in their two daughters:


(4) Donald Trump on the perils of negotiating with terrorists. In one of his best answers of the night, Donald Trump handled a difficult question about the appropriateness of ISIS hostage relatives raising ransom money for in an effort to save their loved ones with deftness, compassion, and conviction. He cited his personal relationship with the family of beheading victim James Foley, praising them to the hilt, before stating the principled case for why negotiating with terrorists is a dangerous idea (the key piece starts at the 1:45 mark):


Voter behavior, often to conservatives' consternation, is frequently dictated by how candidates make people feel, not hard statistics or empirical data. The political sweet spot for Republicans is to convey their ideas and policy cases on the latter front after or while they arrest people's attention and demonstrate their own humanity on the former.   These clips show how it can be done.

Hypocrisy: Democrats Blasted Cost Of Benghazi Committee, But Gave Staffers Thousands In Bonuses

The House Democrats on the Select Committee On Benghazi have wasted $2 million obstructing the body’s investigation into the 2012 terrorist attack that left Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others dead. Thus far, the Democrats on the committee have not called one member of the Obama administration to testify, nor have they requested any documents from the administration for review. Now, after complaining about the committee’s cost, it’s been reported that these very Democrats have doled out tens of thousands of dollars in bonuses to staffers (via Fox News):

Democrats on the House committee probing the 2012 Benghazi terror attacks awarded tens of thousands of dollars in bonuses to their staff, while at the same time repeatedly attacking Republicans over the rising cost of the investigation.

According to publicly available reports, a total of $33,600 was given to six Democratic staffers at the end of 2014 and 2015.

While the bonuses make up only a fraction of the panel's total expenses to date, critics suggested they undermine the minority members' complaints about the budget.

[…]

Democrats complain the committee’s investigation, established in May 2014, has gone on longer than the 9/11 Commission's review of the 2001 terror attacks and have accused Republicans of using the committee as a political weapon to attack Democratic 2016 front-runner Hillary Clinton -- who was secretary of state at the time of the Benghazi attacks.

And they have been relentless in describing the investigation as a waste of money, even including a “Benghazi Spending Tracker” on their website. The total taxpayer tab is now at nearly $6 million.

Hypocrisy thy name is Democrat.

Boston Globe: Even Hillary's Staff Admits a NH Win Is 'Nearly Impossible'

It was no wonder why, after barely squeaking out a win in Iowa last week, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton bolted from her “victory” rally in just 5 minutes, knowing New Hampshire would be a much steeper climb. Her opponent Bernie Sanders has had a commanding double digit lead in the Granite State for weeks.

The fact that this particular state once boosted her and her husband’s political careers makes her fall from grace in New Hampshire especially painful, writes The Boston Globe.

Team Clinton once saw the Granite State as friendly territory — after all, voters here rescued her husband’s 1992 presidential campaign and injected energy into her 2008 contest. The relationship with the state’s voters seems to have frayed quite a bit since then, with even some top supporters acknowledging that a win Tuesday looks nearly impossible.

Because Clinton is trailing at an embarrassing rate, her team now seems to be downplaying the importance of the primary win. That’s why, The Boston Globe suspects, Clinton decided to leave New Hampshire for a few hours to travel to Flint, Mich. While The Globe says the trip was “designed” for Clinton to raise awareness for the families who have been affected by lead poisoning, it also seemed to serve as a disguised opportunity to escape an obvious defeat.

Up until now, Clinton has had name recognition and money on her side. Sanders, however, is gaining on her in both areas.  His progressive message is resonating with Democrats – especially young voters – and for the first time last month he raised more money than Team Hillary.

No wonder she doesn’t want to look New Hampshire in the eye.

Ratings Gold: GOP's NH Debate Crushes Dems, Draws 13.2 Million Viewers


CONCORD, NH -- Saturday night's Republican debate in Manchester drew a robust 9.3 rating, attracting an average of 13.2 million viewers.  This was up slightly from Fox News' pre-Iowa debate, likely due to three factors: High voter interest now that actual balloting is underway, its airing on over-the-air broadcast network, and the anticipated return of Donald Trump to the stage.  Although these numbers are substantially down from the sky-high ratings of the first few Republican debates -- which ranged from 18 to 24 million viewers -- they're still historically high.  ABC's forum held on the same weekend of the 2012 campaign was that cycle's highest-rated primary debate, at 7.6 million.  Saturday's clash beat that number by more than five million viewers; every GOP debate audience in 2016 has exceeded 11 million.  Another striking trend in 2016 is that interest in the Republican race far outstrips the Democratic nominating contest.  Some statistics:

In this election season, debates on cable news channels have generally out-rated debates on broadcast networks. But ABC's debate was the highest-rated one on any broadcast network to date. ABC's Republican match-up also far surpassed MSNBC's Democratic debate earlier in the week. That forum, which was a late addition to the schedule, had 4.5 million viewers, a new low for the debates this season. The second lowest debate of the season was on ABC. There were 7.8 million viewers for its Democratic debate on the Saturday before Christmas.

Caveats about networks and air dates aside, the GOP's New Hampshire debate drew nearlynine million more viewers than the Democrats' version. Pair that data with the record-shattering Republican voter turnout in Iowa, and an enthusiasm gap narrative begins to emerge. Here's another interesting ratings tidbit:

ABC also benefited from enviable timing, three days before the New Hampshire primaries, with all the major candidates fiercely fighting for votes. The debate ratings rose each half hour between 8 and 10 p.m., indicating that viewers stuck with the program despite an embarrassing flub during the candidate introductions. (Two candidates initially didn't come on stage, and then the moderators seemingly forgot to invite John Kasich on.)

This may come as welcome news at Rubio headquarters, given that ABC's audience continued to build after the Florida Senator's wince-inducing takedown by Chris Christie.  Following that brutal exchange, Rubio improved dramatically over the remainder of the debate.  Then again, the negative press focusing on that moment has been significant, as the lowlights have made the rounds online and on-air.  The Weekly Standard's Jonathan Last has written a perceptive piece gaming out how Rubio's "repeat button" stumble might play out.  He points out that the anti-Obama attack Rubio repeatedly advanced on Saturday is likely shared widely among the Republican electorate, also noting (as others have) that an unrattled Rubio seemed at ease and at peace on the campaign trail the very next day.  Indeed, Rubio appeared on ABC's This Week and aggressively defended his message by thanking Democrats and rival campaigns for circulating clips of him describing how, in his view, Obama is deliberately and fundamentally changing America.  "I'm going to keep saying it," he tells host George Stephanopolous.  I've embedded the clip below. So that's the upbeat, bullish take.  The bearish side of the equation is obvious and ought to be worrying for the Rubio camp:

The pessimistic case (if you're a Rubio supporter) goes like this: Rubio needed to close the sale with New Hampshire voters and he blew it...But it's worse than that. The best political attacks turn an opponent's strength into a weakness. By indicting Rubio's candidate skills—the fact that he's so polished and talks so well—Chris Christie was attempting not just to blow up Rubio in the debate, but to diminish his biggest advantage and poison everything voters hear from him going forward. Voters will wonder, Is that answer Rubio just gave on ISIS, or vaccinations, or the estate tax a sign of a smart, fluid candidate? Or just another rehearsed, scripted soundbite?

There's some thin evidence, based on meh data and several anecdotes, that Rubio may be weathering the storm. There's equally questionable data and anecdotes that suggest he's taking a real hit. We'll know the truth soon enough. Here's what I'm still scratching my head over:


There were so many avenues he could have taken to has at Christie and repackage his point, but instead, he fell directly into Christie's trap. Worse, he seemed self-unaware about what was happening and totally failed to adjust. Assuming he doesn't absolutely tank over one poor (partial) debate showing -- remember this? -- Rubio would be well-served in the next debate to poke a bit of fun at himself, with a smile and a twinkle in his eye. "You know what? Let me repeat what I just said..." As promised, I'll leave you with this:


He's better here, certainly, but has the momentum irreparably shifted? And if so, who is the primary beneficiary?  If I had to bet, I'd put more chips on this guy than anyone else.

North Korean Satellite Flew Over Super Bowl

According to the Associated Press, the recently launched North Korean satellite Kwangmyongsong, or "Shining Star," soared over the San Fransisco Bay area in close proximity to Super Bowl 50 on Sunday night.  

Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist working at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said the North Korean satellite absolutely passed near the area around the time the game was finished.  

"I have no idea when the end of the Super Bowl was, not a sports fan," he said. "But KMS-4 did pass over that part of California at 8:27 p.m. PST at an altitude of 480 kilometers. I calculate it was 35 miles west and 300 miles up as it passed overhead heading almost due north."

For a little perspective of what the Super Bowl looks like from space, astronaut Scott kelly shared his first experience of the big game from Earth's atmosphere.

WATCH: Mary Katharine Ham Questions Candidates at GOP Debate

In case you missed it Saturday night, Hot Air (a property of Townhall Media and Salem Communications) Editor-at-Large Mary Katharine Ham questioned GOP presidential candidates during the debate hosted by ABC News in Manchester. Not surprisingly, she was a total pro. 

Watch below: 

Also, be sure to check out Guy's analysis of the debate from New Hampshire.

What Time Do the Polls Close in New Hampshire?

New Hampshire votes tomorrow, February 9, in the first-in-the-nation primary for both major political parties.

Polls will be open until 7:00 p.m. Eastern time.

Find a polling location here.

When Is The Next Debate?

The next Democratic primary debate will be held on February 11, 2016. It will air on PBS (and be available online) at 9:00 p.m. ET. The debate will be moderated by Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff.

The next Republican primary debate will be held on February 13, 2016. It will air on CBS at 9:00 p.m. ET. The debate will be moderated by John Dickerson, Major Garrett, and Kimberley Strassel.

ICYMI: January Set Another Record For Gun Sales

Last December, we saw 3.3 million background checks being conducted by the FBI on firearm purchases. That’s a record number. In all, 23.1 million total checks were run through the National Instant Criminal Background Checks (NICS) system, making 2015 a record year for gun sales. Again, the reasons for the dramatic increase are straightforward. We have a pro-gun control Democratic president; we’ve seen a rash of horrific terrorist attacks; and said president has enacted a series of executive actions on gun control.

For January, gun sales set yet another record, as Stephen Gutowksi of the Free Beacon wrote earlier this month:

With 2,545,802 checks processed through the National Instant Background Check System, January 2016 beat the previous record, set in January 2013, by 50,326 checks. Though January’s number represents a drop from the all-time single month record set in December 2015, it is also marks the ninth month in a row that has set a record. It is also the third month in a row with more than two million background checks.

The number of background checks conducted by the FBI is widely considered the most reliable estimate for gun sales in the country since all sales conducted through federally licensed gun dealers and some sales conducted by private parties are required by law to obtain a check.

However, the number is not a one-to-one representation of gun sales. Many private sales are not included in the system. Also, in some cases a single background check can apply to the sale of multiple guns. Some states use background checks for their gun carry permitting process, which does not involve the sale of a gun.

So, Americans are buying guns, going through the process to obtain a carry permit to exercise their rights, or obtaining a carry permit before they eventually buy a gun. These are all good things. On a less than positive note, the surge in sales has led the NICS system to become overloaded, with appeals being forced to the side due to lack of staff. Citizens who may share the same name with a known felon and were denied a transfer file such appeals. This could be depriving Americans of their Second Amendment rights. The NICS system has no more than 100 analysts, while other employees for the database have been denied leave since Thanksgiving to process all the requests. Congress maybe mulling approving additional staff to help with the workflow, with the National Rifle Association not opposing such an initiative, as long as the additional funds and NICS employees are used to fix the processing delays and not harass law-abiding Americans.

Lastly, the January sales report continues to reinforce the notion that President Obama, the Democratic Party, the anti-gun wing of America, and the media are members of an elite squad of gun salesmen, who have encouraged Americans to buy over 100 million firearms since the beginning of Obama’s presidency. Take a bow, folks!

Oh Yeah: Gun Permits Are Surging In Minnesota

Minnesota residents are lining up to obtain gun permits, with an uptick of 6,000 permits last month. Fears over terrorism and President Obama’s recent executive actions on gun control are responsible for the rush, though the Star Tribune added that some of their numbers might be permit renewals. Regardless, there still was a drastic increase in Minnesotans who wish to exercise their Second Amendment rights:

Since the beginning of the new year, there have been at least 221,712 active permit holders — a 6,189 increase from December 2015, according to a monthly data report from the state’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA). The largest spike was in March 2013 with 7,213 active permit holders, a few months after the elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn., and subsequent calls for national gun control measures.

A similar pattern of jumps in permit holders and applications are typically seen after prominent mass shootings, including the November Paris terrorist attacks and the December killings in San Bernardino, Calif.

[…]

Almost in reflex, there’s a run on ammunition, gun sale background checks increase, interest in and enrollment in permit classes go up, and more people get their permits, said Andrew Rothman, president of the Gun Owners Civil Rights Alliance (GOCRA), which released the report Thursday.

“It’s not always a reaction to mass shootings, although there is some of that,” Rothman said. “But probably the bigger part is the reaction when people hear about the political rhetoric following a horrible murder … that’s what gets people very interested in exercising their rights.”

The number of active carry permits in the state has grown by more than 20,000 in six months. Now, about one in 19 eligible Minnesota adults have a permit to carry, according to GOCRA.

In neighboring Iowa, fellow Hawkeye residents are also applying for permits and buying firearms. For some dealers, it’s at a rate where they cannot keep up with demand.

Surprise: Hillary Campaign Balks At Releasing Wall Street Speech Transcripts


Vintage Hillary. As she fashions herself as a hardcore anti-Wall Street progressive in the midst of a surprisingly competitive Democratic primary, she's trying to explain away her six-figure speeches to major financial institutions, who also happen to be her generous campaign benefactors. At Thursday's (very low-rated) debate against Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton claimed that when she delivered these lucrative addresses, she spoke truth to power -- bravely warning about the subprime mortgage collapse prior to the 2008 financial crisis:


Given this alleged, evidence-free prescience, one might think that Mrs. Clinton would be eager to release video and transcripts of these speeches -- to showcase how right she was, and to highlight her fierce independence. When she was asked about producing these records prior to the debate, she laughed out loud:


When MSNBC's moderators pressed her on the same question on the debate stage, she served up a quintessentially Clintonesque punt. She'd...look into it:


Again, if she's the paragon of transparency that she claims to be (snicker), and if her Wall Street speeches were as prophetic and civic-minded as she says, her campaign should be turning them into ads. Instead, surprise:

In response to a question at Thursday night’s debate, Hillary Clinton said she would “look into” the possibility of releasing transcripts of her paid remarks to banking, corporate and financial services companies like Goldman Sachs. But by Friday morning, it did not appear that much looking was underway. Joel Benenson, Mrs. Clinton’s pollster, gave little indication at a Wall Street Journal breakfast with reporters that the transcripts would be forthcoming. “I don’t think voters are interested in the transcripts of her speeches,” he said. Whether they are made public is up to the Clinton campaign. Speaking contracts typically give the speaker the right to decide whether any material from a particular speech can be shared beyond the room. Goldman Sachs, for one, declined to make an on-the-record statement...Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Mrs. Clinton’s opponent for the Democratic presidential nomination, has accused Mrs. Clinton of being in the pocket of Wall Street and big business by noting that she has received major donations from them and was paid more than $600,000 in speaking fees from Goldman Sachs in one year. She has struggled to explain why she took that money, saying at a CNN forum on Wednesday night: “Well, I don’t know. That’s what they offered.”

Fact check on that last point:


She's so bad at this. But remember, Hillary wants you to know that the Clintons can't be bought. Alas, the public record raises serious questions on that front, and who knows that the FBI has dug up in those 32,000 deleted emails. Might their discoveries have anything to do with their reported decision to expand their criminal investigation to entail public corruption?

Bernie Sanders Appears on SNL; Speaks Against The One Percent

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) made a cameo appearance on Saturday Night Live last night, playing a character named "Bernie Sanderswitzky" who was upset at a passenger on a sinking ship was attempting to hop the line for a lifeboat due to his higher economic status. "Sanderswitzky" said that he was not a socialist, rather that the policy was "democratic socialism," and that the difference between the two was "yuge."

Watch here, and it's actually pretty funny:

The episode was hosted by comedian Larry David, and word of Sanders' cameo had leaked in the days before the episode aired.

Earlier in the night, SNL aired a skit titled "Bern Your Enthusiasm" that purportedly showed how Sanders (played by David) lost the Iowa caucuses by upsetting five potential supporters:

During the episode, Sanders changed the avatar on his official campaign Twitter account to a picture of David playing Sanders on the show.

Sanders is the third 2016 presidential candidate to appear on SNL this season.

Rubio Ran Into Some Granite, Had Shaky Defense Against Christie in New Hampshire Debate

First, please go read Guy’s analysis about last night’s debate, which was hosted by ABC News and IJ Review. Voters will decide in New Hampshire on February 9. The whole event got off to a rocky start with moderators Martha Raddatz and David Muir botching the candidate announcements, but the debate moved forward. Hot Air's Mary Katharine Ham was also present to ask questions, which some are were the best of the night. As for Rubio, he had a rough night, especially when New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie pressed him on his record and experience. 

The introduction of the candidates at the Republican debate got awkward.

Posted by POLITICO on Saturday, February 6, 2016

From ht outset, Trump made something absolutely clear to the voters; the GOP is going to win with Trump. The Iowa Caucuses drama between Sen. Ted Cruz and Dr. Ben Carson was also addressed, with the Texas senator apologizing to Carson over the mishap that seems to be blown way out of proportion.

It didn’t take long for Rubio to become the target of  Gov. Chris Christie. Rubio said that President Obama is taking drastic steps to change America for the worse, and that if elected; he is going to re-embrace what makes this country great.

It’s here that Gov. Christie said that he wakes up every morning thinking about ways to make New Jersey residents' lives better, and that he’s held accountable for his actions. Se. Rubio, who he said he likes, doesn’t have that same level of accountability, being able to spin his way out of such standards through talking points. He also hit the freshman Florida senator over his absence in the Senate, especially concerning the Hezbollah sanctions act, calling it truancy not leadership. 

Rubio hit back by saying that Christie presides over a state whose credit rating has been downgraded nine times. Still, Rubio kept repeating most of his opening remarks; the optics of which were not so good.

When immigration was brought up, Sen. Cruz propose building a wall and tripling the amount of border patrol agents. He noted that once you’ve secured the border, we could tackle our illegal immigration problem. On the wall Cruz added, “I’ve got someone in mind to build it,” while looking at Trump.

Rubio wants to expand the border patrol, have an entry/exit system to track the number of visa overstays, and have mandatory e-verify for businesses. Yet, the ghosts of the 2013 “Gang of 8” bill reared its head, with Christie chiming in pushing the senator if he fought for his bill. Again, Christie noted that this is a difference between a governor and a legislator, touting his record in taking on the teachers unions–and winning the fight over tenure. When Jersey Democrats wanted a tax increase and threatened a government shutdown, Christie took pride in the fact that he told them that he would go to Drumthwacket (the governor’s mansion) order a pizza and watch the Mets and wait for the government to reopen because he wasn’t signing an increase. The Democrats didn’t shut down the government, and the tax increase wasn’t passed, because they knew, according to Christie, that he would fight for what he thinks is right for the state.

Hot Air’s Mary Katharine Ham asked Donald Trump whether he was closer to Bernie Sanders than the conservative movement regarding health care policy, quoting the billionaire magnate for saying that everyone’s got to be covered. Oh, and the government is going to pay for it.

Trump said, “I’m closer to common sense,” while saying there are so many examples of something that we could do to fix our health care system. It was a garrulous, rambling answer that said the insurance companies are getting rich on Obamacare (they’re not), and that we’re not going to let people die.

Cruz added that socialized medicine would hurt the American people, while adding that he would allow Americans to buy insurance across state lines. This would drive down prices since competition and choice would be expanded concerning shopping for plans in this market. Carson said he wants to establish health empowerment accounts, which would allow families to function as their own insurance provider; there would be no middlemen.

Another spat highlighted by Leah occurred between Bush and Trump over eminent domain. Trump said that it’s key to provide the many services we have, and sometimes take for granted, in this country. Bush hit Trump for trying to seize a woman’s home to build a parking lot for limousines.

The rest of the night was dotted with questions about what it means to be a conservative, how to fight ISIS, the possibility of redeploying forces to Libya, the selective service, bringing back waterboarding, and whether the party’s positions on social issues might be too extreme.

You can re-watch the debate below since ABC News live streamed it over YouTube [debate begins at 1:17:10 mark]:

Over at RedState, Leon Wolf offers his won analysis, while saying that we should stop having Martha Raddatz moderating GOP debates; he’s right.

Oh, and what about Carly Fiorina. Well, she had a date night with her husband.

Parting Thought: For those you worried about Rubio's performance, there's this from Allahpundit.

Analysis: Governors Soar, Rubio Stumbles Early On in Crucial NH Debate


MANCHESTER, NH-- In desperate need of a strong showing in New Hampshire, three Republican governors stepped up and won tonight's debate. Jeb Bush, Chris Christie and John Kasich all turned in outstanding performances, which may disrupt the state of play ahead of Tuesday's votes.  In a cycle that has been notably unkind to governors, these chief executives finally broke through.  Marco Rubiosurging out of Iowa, endured a brutal opening segment, getting sliced and diced by Christie. The New Jerseyan attacked Rubio as scripted and untested, which Rubio parried well at first, but then proceeded to repeat almost the same verbatim defense of himself as Christie poked and prodded. With each similar Rubio response, Christie urged the audience to take note of how the Floridian was confirming the knock the governor was advancing.  This was Christie the prosecutor, puncturing a reluctant witness on the stand:


A cringeworthy stretch for Rubio. Let's see if he suffers because of it. I should add that Rubio rebounded quite well later in the program, offering excellent and detailed answers on a host of questions -- particularly in exchanges on ISIS and abortion. But the fact that Rubio wasn't prepared to go several rounds with Christie, after a week of Christie telegraphing those very attacks, is mystifying.  It was as if Rubio was ready to go toe-to-toe with Bush (over attacks that never came), and hadn't anticipated Christie's intense barrage.  A big miscalculation. The Florida Senator can be very agile on his feet as a politician; in those opening minutes, he was not.  Ted Cruz also started off a bit shaky, but recovered with a string of characteristically detailed answers across a spectrum of issues. Overall, he felt like less of a factor in this debate than he did in recent forums.  His victory dance on beating the ethanol lobby in Iowa was a sweet moment for fans of the free market. Donald Trumpleading in the polls, had a decent night. He offered several good answers (negotiating with terrorists comes to mind), and a few bad ones (he lost the eminent domain battle to Jeb, and was incoherent on foreign policy).  If the polls are accurate, Trump remains the odds-on frontrunner heading into Tuesday; a good night for him.  Ben Carson overcame the awkward snafu during candidate introductions and did a nice job, connecting with voters on a personal level several times.  His response to the Cruz 'rumor' story was handled almost flawlessly -- leading to one of his best moments, and one of Cruz's toughest.  Overall, this was an informative and substantive debate, with a special home-team shout-out to Mary Katharine Ham for her superb questioning on healthcare, executive power and abortion.  I'll leave you with one X-factor that I believe impacted this debate's "intangibles" and optics:


ABC News reported after the debate that Democrats who were worried about Rubio's post-Iowa ascension were "relieved" by his early struggles. Instead of solidifying his standing with a sharp, poised performance, Rubio stumbled in the opening minutes of the debate. That may be a "teachable moment," but how much will it cost him?  And how much did his recovery negate his ugly start?  Bottom line: After tonight, Trump's position as the leader in the clubhouse is unchanged -- and the fight over finishing in New Hampshire's top tier may have gotten a lot more interesting.


UPDATE
-- Since I gave you video of Rubio getting totally overmatched rhetorically by Christie, here's his A+ answer on the pro-life question:


He also followed-up by stating that although he views all life as sacred, he would sign pro-life legislation with exceptions as president. Also, this analysis might be vindicated in the coming days, but that's not how I watched that back-and-forth in real time. I saw Christie draw political blood:



Gloves Come Off Between Bush, Trump Over Eminent Domain

Donald Trump’s history of using, and many would argue abusing, eminent domain in his business life has surfaced time and again on the campaign trail, with Saturday night’s GOP debate as no exception. 

ABC News’ David Muir asked the real estate mogul about a project in New Hampshire that would bring hydroelectric power from Canada into the Northeastern grid. "Do you see eminent domain as an appropriate tool to get that project done?” he asked, pointing to Trump’s past business endeavors and his support for its use for the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Trump was defensive from the start, knocking the number of people who have hit him over the issue.

“Eminent domain is an absolute necessity for a country, for our country—without it you wouldn’t have roads, you wouldn’t have hospitals, you wouldn’t have anything, you wouldn’t have schools, you wouldn’t have bridges, you need eminent domain,” he argued.

Trump also used it as a platform to attack ‘big conservatives,’ suggesting that their criticisms of him for his support of it are hypocritical, given how much they support the Keystone Pipeline.

“The Keystone Pipeline without eminent domain—it wouldn’t go 10 feet, OK? You need eminent domain, and eminent domain is a good thing, not a bad thing,” he said, adding that it’s fair because when it’s used to take someone’s property, that person is given at least market value if not ‘two or three times’ what it’s worth.

Gov. Jeb Bush didn’t let him have the last word on the issue, however, as he interjected that the “difference between eminent domain for public purpose as Donald said, roads and infrastructure … but what Donald Trump did was use eminent domain to try take the property of an elderly woman on the strip in Atlantic City—that is not public purpose, that is downright wrong.”

Trump attempted to argue that he didn’t take the property, failing to mention (as Jeb rightly pointed out) that that was because he lost in court. 

Their exchange really heated up at the 2:10 mark when Trump said Bush was just trying to ‘be a tough guy.’ The Florida governor kept slamming him on the issue, however: "how tough is it to take property from an elderly woman?” 

Check out the clip below and decide who you think performed best: 

Trump: I Would Bring Back Worse Than Waterboarding

At Saturday night's GOP debate, Sen. Ted Cruz lamented how we have failed to fully support our troops.

"Our soldiers are going into combat with their arms tied behind their backs," he said. "Allow our soldiers to do their jobs."

Our military prowess came up later in the night when the ABC News moderators brought up the always controversial enhanced interrogation process known as waterboarding, which many people have defined as torture. President Obama ended the procedure by executive order. Would the candidates bring it back? the moderators wondered.

While Cruz didn't say he would revive it, he did say he would do "whatever was necessary" to combat terrorism.

Donald Trump was a little more blunt. 

"I would bring it back, he said. "We have people chopping heads off people," he continued. Not since the Medieval Times, he said, have we seen such barbarism.

"I would bring back waterboarding," he repeated. "I would bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding."

LIVE: 2016 Republican Granite State Rumble

We’re about an hour into the Republican debate in New Hampshire. The IJ Review/ABC News debate is being live streamed here: