Washington is experiencing a brief, if awkward, brush-up with mainstream alternative culture. Conservative political media outlets don't like the rapper Common, putting them in league with countless music snobs who think his last good album was "Be." House Democrats are counting votes the same way annoying graphic designers on the bus read the news. And Ray LaHood feels strongly about the rights of fixed-gear bike enthusiasts, but doesn't understand why they all wear checkered shirts and skinny jeans. This is HUFFPOST HILL for Tuesday, May 10th, 2011:
PRESIDENT DELIVERS MUCH-VAUNTED IMMIGRATION ADDRESS, DOESN'T REALLY SAY ANYTHING - After days of hype from the White House, which seemed to indicate that President Obama's speech in El Paso today would redefine his immigration agenda, the president delivered a speech about as substantive as a cucumber-and-Wonder-bread sandwich. While it did renew the administration's focus on immigration reform, the speech didn't focus on policy. The president offered a vague rebuke to the GOP's focus on security over reform, insisting that the border is secure, and he stressed the need to reverse those priorities. "We have gone above and beyond what was requested by the very Republicans who said they supported broader reform as long as we got serious about enforcement," he declared. "But even though we've answered these concerns, I gotta say I suspect there are still going to be some who are trying to move the goal posts on us one more time." He also made a joke about the GOP wanting to construct an alligator-filled moat along the border. Yeah, it was basically one of those time-tested "Is person X in the house?" crowd-pleasing Obama speeches. [AP/HuffPost]
HUNTSMAN BUILDING SUPPORT ON CAPITOL HILL FOR 2012 RUN - Running tonight in Roll Call: "Republican Jon Huntsman met last week with Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) and other Members, looking to build support on Capitol Hill in preparation for a likely 2012 White House bid, writes Roll Call's David M. Drucker. Huntsman, who served as President Barack Obama's ambassador to China until resigning April 30, made what Thune described as courtesy calls in between traveling to key states on the Republican presidential primary calendar. 'He's just returned from a stint in China and is giving a lot of consideration whether or not to make this race, and I'm guessing he'll probably say something before too long,' Thune said."
RAY LAHOOD BRAVES THE UNSHAVEN, CARGO SHORTS-WEARING LION'S DEN: VISITS HUFFPOST DC - Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood paid a visit to our offices today for a one-hour, on-the-record discussion about the Obama administration's various transportation initiatives, including the current impasse over high-speed rail funding. LaHood claimed that there is widespread support for the projects and jokingly noted that the only people who think otherwise are Republican governors. When asked about the recent assault on public employees, including public transportation workers, he responded sharply. "I've been in public service for 35 years ... nobody has a higher regard for people who work in public service than I do," he said. "I have a great disdain for politicians who run around criticizing people that are in public service...I've seen a lot of politicians take credit for the work that public servants have done. As members of Congress getting them a Social Security check or a veterans check, they take the credit for it when they know that somebody in an office somewhere actually did the work." Asked about the recent turnaround in the American auto industry -- one of the country's largest -- LaHood saiddf that "the president deserves credit for this." Fair enough.
Nice that the most aggressive defense of public workers from the White House comes from a Republican.
LaHood also launched into an impassioned defense of cyclists against drivers who often bully them out of their designated lanes. Asked whether he was becoming a hipster, the transportation secretary replied, "I don't even know what that term means." [HuffPost's Sam Stein]
HuffPost Hill asked LaHood whether he wants to stay on for a possible second term: "I don't know," he replied. Reporting!
DEMOCRATS CALL BOEHNER'S DEFICIT BLUFF: DEMAND OIL SUBSIDIES BE CUT - A day after Speaker John Boehner insisted that any increase in the debt ceiling be accompanied by an even larger cut in federal spending, Senate Democrats demanded that cuts in subsidies to oil companies be included in any fiscal austerity package. "You can't talk about cuts without first looking at eliminating the giveaways to big oil. It should start there," Harry Reid's spokesman, Jon Summers, said in a statement. "We agree we have to cut spending, but it is ridiculous for Republicans to push a plan to kill Medicare while trying to defend taxpayer handouts to big oil companies that are making record profits. They don't need the money. If Republicans are serious about cutting spending, they'll support our plan to eliminate welfare for Big Oil so we can apply that money toward the deficit." The "Republicans are puppets of the oil industry" tactic is nifty in that not only does it I-am-rubber-you-are-glue GOP calls for cuts but it also can double as a Democratic counterpoint to the recent Republican noise about gas prices. Gold star! [HuffPost's Sam Stein and Mike McAuliff]
DAILY DELANEY DOWNER - Florida is all set to become the stingiest state in America when it comes to unemployment insurance benefits. A bill awaiting Republican Gov. Rick Scott's signature will cut unemployment taxes on businesses by reducing the maximum benefits for people laid off -- through no fault of their own -- to 23 weeks. That's three fewer weeks than the standard 26 weeks provided by nearly every state for the past 50 years. And as the unemployment rate falls, benefits will diminish on a sliding scale, with a floor of just 12 weeks when the rate is 5 percent or lower. Rep. Doug Holder, the Sarasota Republican who sponsored the bill in the Florida House of Representatives, told HuffPost the measure wouldn't harm the unemployed because the average person who draws unemployment in Florida uses only 17.7 weeks of benefits before finding work. "If the average person is utilizing 17.7 weeks, we've got quite a cushion between 17.7 and 23 weeks," Holder said, adding that the bill would replenish the state's unemployment trust fund within a few years. "The most important thing for us in Florida to do is to send a message to the business community and let them know we're open for business." [HuffPost]
HOUSE DEMS USING iPADS FOR VOTE COUNTS - Alabama Rep. Oscar W. Underwood became the first House Democratic Whip in 1899, serving in the 56th Congress. Underwood's job was a simple one: Persuade his colleagues to show up and to follow the party line. Keep an accurate count of who is with him and who isn't. And never forget... This tradition-bound ritual is finally getting a technological upgrade. The scraps of paper the whip team currently uses are being replaced by handheld devices: iPads, iPhones and BlackBerrys. [HuffPost]
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SENATORS PUSH BACK AGAINST AFGHAN PULLOUT TALK - Even as a growing number of lawmakers are using the death of Osama bin Laden to don the proverbial "Save Darfur" t-shirt and TOMS shoes and call for a shift in America's Afghan policy, the two top senators on the Foreign Relations Committee today tried to quell such talk. In his opening remarks at a hearing on Afghanistan, Chair John Kerry employed pretty strong language to make his point. "A precipitous withdrawal from Afghanistan would be a mistake and I, for one, would take that option off the table," he wrote. Kerry's Republican counterpart on the committee, Richard Lugar, echoed that sentiment. "[H]e should put forward a new plan that includes a definition of success in Afghanistan based on US vital interests and a sober analysis of what is possible to achieve," Lugar said in his own statement. Kerry's remarks carry weight as committee chair but so do Lugar's, as the Indiana lawmaker was President Obama's foreign policy mentor in the Senate (picture a Karate Kid-style montage with Obama running up a flight of stairs, carefully examining a map of the Middle East, reading a book with the words "NUCLEAR DISARMAMENT" printed on the front and catching a fly with his hands). [AFP]
John Cornyn, with some comforting words about the deficit debate: "We should vote against it, and let those people who vote for it explain why they couldn't stop the spending spree...There's no incentive at all for Republicans in the Senate to vote for it...Unless it does something about entitlements, it's just superficial." [HuffPost's Elise Foley]
HOYER COMES OUT AGAINST EXECUTIVE ORDER ON CONTRACTOR CONTRIBUTIONS - House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer has bucked his party and come out in opposition to President Obama's plan to require firms conducting business with the federal government to publicly disclose their campaign contributions. "The issue of contracting ought to be on the merits of the contractor's application and bid and capabilities," Hoyer said at a Capitol briefing with reporters. "There are some serious questions as to what implications there are if somehow we consider political contributions in the context of awarding contracts." He added that, "I'm not in agreement with the administration on that issue." Hey, at least it's an executive order so Hoyer doesn't have to whip it, right? That would be weird ("Hey, Barney? It's Steny. Just calling to see if we can count on your support for H.R. 42 -- what? ... You're on the fence? You don't like the loophole? I understand, but we could real -- right ... right ... right ... right. You know what? Forget it. Nah, don't worry about it."). [The Hill]
DEAN HELLER AGGRESSIVELY DENIES NON-AGGRESSION PACT WITH HARRY REID - Day-old Senator Dean Heller is strongly denying reports that he and Majority Leader Harry Reid have entered into an informal agreement to not publicly attack one-another so as to maintain the semblance of cordiality between Nevada's two senators. "That's news to me. We did not have that particular discussion," Heller told Roll Call. "If you're asking if there's a [nonaggression pact], that is not happening." For years, Reid and John Ensign maintained such an agreement so that Reid wouldn't be all, "Hey, you're less scrupulous than the Vegas pit bosses I used to manhandle as gaming commissioner" and Ensign wouldn't be all "Hey, you're about as exciting as a tortoise on lithium." It worked, and the two mostly stayed off of each others' cases for the duration of Ensign's tenure in the upper chamber. But now, without an agreement, expect Reid to be all, "Hey, your tacky dye job, oddly-bronzed skin and forced ear-to-ear smile make you look like a televangelist on meth." This will be fun. [Roll Call]
A new Marist poll finds New York Republicans approve of Governor Andrew Cuomo's job performance more than their Democratic counterparts do. Sixty-two percent of GOP respondents say they approve of how Cuomo is handling his job, significantly more than the 56 percent of Democrats who feel the same way. Since taking office, Cuomo has aggressively pushed a substantial cut in the state's expenses and has butted heads with state unions on more than one occasion. Oh, and in case you forgot, he's a Democrat. [Bloomberg]
POLL: THE DONALD'S STAR IS FADING - The least racist person you'll ever meet is quickly becoming the least electable Republican you'll ever meet. A new Public Policy Polling survey finds Donald Trump tied for fifth place in the Republican 2012 field, earning 8 percent of the vote along with Ron Paul. Thirty-five percent of Republicans have a favorable opinion of Trump, a paltry figure compared to the 53 percent who view him negatively. Of course, low poll numbers have never stopped an outspoken egomaniac from running for president nor, for that matter, have they stopped the media from covering such a candidate. Those of you who think the disappointing poll numbers will temper The Donald's provocative statements should bear in mind that The Apprentice's ratings have been sagging lately. You should also bear in mind that this is Donald Trump we're talking about. [PPP]
OBAMAS INVITES LEAST OFFENSIVE RAPPER AROUND TO WHITE HOUSE, CONSERVATIVES FREAK OUT - In this post-N.W.A. day and age, you don't come across many rappers opining on how parents just don't understand or how you, you got what I need. With that said, the rapper/poet Common comes awfully close. You might remember him from that video of him rapping love ballads to deaf women. He's an awfully nice man whose music is pretty positive and a far cry from the gangster rap of yore whose sound waves some conservatives insist are embedded with the directions to the nearest back-alley Gat, Crack 'n Hos emporium. Yet right-leaning media outlets like Fox News and the Daily Caller are raising a stink over Michelle Obama extending an invite to Common to a White House poetry evening. Specifically, they are upset over Common's poem, "A Letter To The Law," which includes references to firearms but is, as Jason Linkins eloquently puts it, "a 'letter' to the source of moral authority written from the perspective of inner city black youths who feel that the police don't protect them, that the media loves to blow up and then tear down their community's celebrities and that the government has been acting more gangsta." You've won the culture battle, Michelle, but you've yet to win the WAR. [HuffPost]
BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR - How it dawned on someone to splice in old timey jazz over footage of baby meerkats is beyond us. We're just glad it did.
KEVIN THE INTERN'S 'THIS DAY IN HISTORY' - May 10th, 1869: Nation Linked By Railroad, Devastating the Covered Wagon Industry As more Americans went West seeking fortune and glory, they needed a quicker way to get there besides trying to ford the river and avoid dysentery. The Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railroad companies converged their tracks at Promontory, Utah, linking the two halves of the country together (at least the half starting in Omaha, Nebraska), solving that challenge. Even the Civil War couldn't delay construction, as 2,000 miles of track were built in under three years. Thousands of mainly Chinese and Irish immigrants worked on the railroad in terrible conditions (avalanches), but soon the Old West enjoyed a population boom, and people moved to California and other locales for reasons other than drunken debauchery. Butch and Sundance would say otherwise. Thanks, KB!
- Mariachi band performs "The Wall" by Pink Floyd. Globalization can be fun sometimes. [target="_hplink">http://bit.ly/khCldv]
- A micro-edited musical remix of Reservoir Dogs. Pretty infectious. [http://bit.ly/mBmySB]
- This cat video is clearly fake ... but clearly HILARIOUS. [http://bit.ly/kOzW19]
- The Cookie Monster answers your questions. We can't believe the HuffPost Comedy editors get paid for this. [http://huff.to/k9J3ov]
- An aggressively twee cover of the Angry Birds theme song. You will either be smitten or want to break something. [http://chzb.gr/lcvNYy]
- Possibly the nerdiest correction of a sports article to ever appear in print. [http://some.ly/lnrUR2]
- From the elderly lady who read Kanye West's tweets, "Grandma Reads Odd Future's Tweets." [http://bit.ly/jSVm5G]
- The Lion King sloppily re-cut to explain The Wire. Enjoyably bad. [http://bit.ly/jxrVL6]
@RayLaHood: Thanks, @HuffingtonPost (I think)! RT @KevinFTBoyle Ray LaHood Unsure If He's A Hipster
@pourmecoffee: Making Newt mixtape. Toni Braxton's "Unbreak My Heart" was #1 song when he was fined/reprimanded for ethics violations.
@mikememoli: RNC spin on Obama speech: a politician is being political! #thanks
5:30 pm - 7:00 pm: Tim Kaine takes a break from campaigning in-state to cross the Potomac and deliver vague statements of gratitude to an audience of wealthy contributors [Cornerstone Government Affairs, 300 Independence Ave SE].
6:30 pm: Inspect the wood chipper lodged in Sherrod Brown's throat yourself. The Ohio lawmaker gets his Italy on [Trattoria Alberto of Capitol Hill, 506 8th Street SE].
7:00 pm - 9:00 pm: Jim Clyburn, who twisted enough arms to land himself a newly-created number-three leadership spot, attends a fundraiser hosted by reps from the financial services sector, the industry that twisted enough arms to land itself whatever it wants.
8:30 am - 9:30 am: Carolyn Maloney, who's knee-deep in financial regulatory issues, attends a fundraiser hosted by the Credit Union National Association ... because that's how politics work [Credit Union House, 403 C Street NE].
8:30 am - 9:30 am: John Kerry takes a break from pretending not to be bored as a senator and campaigning for secretary of state to raise funds for the senate career he doesn't care about [Glover Park Group, 1025 F Street NW, 9th Floor].
11:45 am: Bob Corker throws the often-neglected pharmaceutical industry a bone by taking their money at a fundraise [Pfizer Inc, 325 7th Street NW, Suite 1200].
5:30 pm - 7:00 pm: Newly-minted Senator Dean Heller passes the hat on behalf of his campaign for a full six-year term. Manufacturing interests, such as Boeing PAC, will be in attendence [National Republican Senatorial Committee, 425 2nd Street NE].
7:00 pm - 9:00 pm: Jim Clyburn attends his second financial services dinner in as many days. The only thing that bothers us more than the coziness with the financial services industry is that the event is being held at Carmine's, which is possibly the most disgusting restaurant in history. Wayyyy too much garlic [Carmine's, 425 7th Street, NW].
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