What Can the State Supreme Court Race in Wis. Tell Us About 2012?

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(MADISON, Wis.) -- Assistant state attorney general JoAnne Kloppenburg -- backed by liberals -- holds a paper-thin lead of fewer than 300 votes over state Supreme Court Justice David Prosser, a conservative, in the non-partisan race.  The margin is so narrow that a recount is inevitable.  Judicial elections are normally dull affairs, but Wisconsin voters turned out Tuesday in record numbers -- fueled by the state’s raging argument over Gov. Walker and his move to strip state employees of their bargaining. If Prosser loses he would be only the second incumbent justice in over 40 years to lose a race for the high court seat.

So what does this all mean for 2012? The Badger State will be at the center of the political universe next fall.

To be sure, it’s always dangerous to read too much into one election. But, this wasn’t a typical down ballot election either. According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University Law School estimates interest groups on both sides spent more than $3.5 million on TV ads in this race.

Even so, despite the strong showing of Republicans in the state in 2010, and Democrats’ success here in 2006 and 2008, this nail-biter of an election shows that Wisconsin isn’t red or blue -- but deep purple. Moreover, it indicates that this normally sleepy Midwestern state is going to be one of the most hotly contested battleground states in 2012.

University of Wisconsin professor Ken Goldstein says that the results of this race show that Wisconsin is “not a blow out state -- we are an evenly divided state. Remember, the 2000 and 2004 presidential where Gore (.4 percent) and Kerry (.2) percent won by razor-thin margins in Wisconsin.”

In fact, notes Goldstein, Kloppenburg carried heavily Democratic Dane County (Madison), by a 73 to 27 percent margin, while Prosser won heavily Republican Waukesha County “by the EXACT same margin.”

One other reason why this election is significant: the new court may ultimately rule on the legality of the controversial law backed by Walker that repeals most collective bargaining by public employees.  The Appeals Court has punted on taking up the case and it’s not clear yet whether the current court (5-4 conservative) or the next one will take up the question of whether Republican legislators violated -- as two Dane County officials have alleged in separate lawsuits -- Wisconsin’s Open Meetings Law.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


John Boehner Cries Amid Government Shutdown Standoff

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- John Boehner was driven to tears again Wednesday.  This time it happened at a closed-door meeting of House Republicans.

According to sources inside the meeting, it happened while Boehner was speaking to the group about the latest on his negotiations with Democrats over government funding.  Boehner talked about his meeting on Tuesday with President Obama and then, in a rousing conclusion, he thanked the House Republicans for standing by him and supporting him through these tense negotiations.

The Republican conference responded with a standing ovation for their speaker.

As you could imagine, that prompted the Speaker to cry.

“Yes,” said one person at the meeting. “He cried, but only briefly.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 


Senators Introduce Bill to Ensure Military Gets Paid in Event of Shutdown

Comstock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- A bipartisan group of senators is now introducing a bill to make sure that members of the military still get paid even if the government shuts down.

The senators leading the effort are Republicans Kay Bailey Hutchison and Jim Inhofe and Democrat Bob Casey. Also signing on are Republicans Olympia Snowe, Lisa Murkowski, John Hoeven, Susan Collins & Kelly Ayotte. According to the senators, the Ensuring Pay for our Military Act of 2011 would “make available the necessary funds to prevent an interruption in pay for members of the military if there is a funding gap resulting from a government shutdown” and it would “give the Secretary of Defense the discretion to allow those who serve as DOD civilians or contractors in support of our men and women in uniform to continue to be paid as well.”

In a paper statement, Hutchison said, "I am not willing to place the well-being of our military personnel and their families in the balance as we await a budget agreement. Our troops are serving our country, and our country must continue to serve them."

Said Casey, “Military men and women put their lives on the line and sacrifice every day to ensure our security. They should not have to worry about getting paid on time.”

"The last concern our service men and women need to have while serving in harm's way is whether or not they can pay their bills - rent, car payments, and food for their families,” said Inhofe. “This country and this Congress has an obligation to care for our military and their families, just as they care for and protect this nation every day.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


FBI Director Says Gov. Shutdown Impacting Morale at Bureau

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- At the House appropriations committee Wednesday morning, FBI Director Robert Mueller said talk of the looming government shutdown is already having a negative impact on morale at the FBI.

"Its adversely affecting morale in the Bureau because a number of persons don't know if they are going to be here on Monday, they don't know if they are going to get's tremendously disruptive to somebody who has given their service to a place like the Bureau. "

"I do expect our investigations will continue unhindered...but we have to evaluate every's difficult."  Mueller said.

Director Mueller said matters such as training and new initiatives could be impacted.

While most FBI agents, especially in national security positions will not stop working during the shutdown it is unclear what will happen to many FBI analysts and linguists who work with agents at FBI Headquarters and in the FBI's field offices.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Sen. Schumer: New 'Glimmer' of Hope to Avoid Shutdown

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- New York Senator Chuck Schumer told Good Morning America Wednesday there is new hope to avoid a shutdown, after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker John Boehner completed their latest round of budget talks Tuesday night. But Schumer kept up the pressure on Boehner, trying to drive a wedge between the Speaker and his rank and file.

“The Tea Party just continues to pull Speaker Boehner further back and back and back. They are the people who say they don’t want compromise. They are the people who say they relish a shutdown. And the bottom line is if he can resist them, not give them their way on everything I think we can have an agreement and that is why there is a glimmer of hope," he said.

Following a meeting with Boehner, Reid sounded more optimistic when he took to the Senate floor last night and said “there’s still air in the tire” and “the government is not going to be shutdown – yet.”

And Schumer did seem to suggest that Speaker Boehner’s new demand for $40 billion in cuts might fly if Democrats could determine where the savings come from, and Republicans give up most of the policy “riders” (like defunding Planned Parenthood and Obama’s health care plan) that they’ve been demanding.

So what are the chances of a shutdown this weekend?

“Oh I hope it can be avoided. We are doing everything we can to avoid it. But the Tea Party has to compromise a little bit and Speaker Boehner has to tell them that,” Schumer said.

One more glimmer of good news -- President Obama hasn’t called the negotiators back to the White House, yet.

“[It] shows that there is a view that these talks are making some progress, but I’d still be worried particularly because they keep moving the goal post back,” Schumer said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Lawmakers' Budget Talks with Obama Go Nowhere

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama said Tuesday he'll keep meeting with congressional leaders until a budget deal for 2011 is agreed upon following discussions at the White House that apparently produced little in the way of a compromise.

Obama held talks with House Speaker John Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and other lawmakers in hopes of finding common ground to avoid a looming government shutdown this Friday.  However, the president and Democrats complained that Boehner, who is under pressure by the Tea Party and conservatives to make massive cuts, keeps "moving the goal posts" in terms of what figure would make everyone happy.

Currently, it seems to be a $40 billion package of cuts, down from the $61 billion proposed by the GOP-controlled House but certainly far higher than the initial White House offering of $6 billion several weeks ago.

Reid complained that Republicans "are not trying to arrive at the finish line.  It appears that they’re going to do everything they can to satisfy the Tea Party."

Be that as it may, Boehner and Reid met privately after their chat with the president in hopes of getting the talks on track so that a government shutdown isn't necessary.

Frustrated by the lack of movement, Obama said that he wants to see both congressional leaders at the White House Wednesday if they're still far apart.

The administration is fearful that a shutdown could damage the still fragile economic recovery following the worst downturn in 80 years.

The president sounded frustrated when speaking to reporters, saying, "This is not a way to run a government....We don’t have time for games.  We are now closer than we have ever been to getting an agreement.  There is no reason why we should not get an agreement."

Complicating matters is the GOP's insistence on including riders to the budget bill that would defund Planned Parenthood and NPR and calls for the repeal of the healthcare law.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Who Is New Jersey Governor Chris Christie?

ABC News(TRENTON, N.J.) -- Less than two years ago, Chris Christie was an unknown on the national political stage. Today, the governor of New Jersey is one of the brightest stars in the Republican Party, courted by likely presidential candidates and wildly popular with the party's conservative base.

Christie's rapid rise has come in large part thanks to his brash style, confronting New Jersey's major budget woes with an austerity program. His take-no-prisoners approach with teachers' unions and other public officials has rallied supporters and drawn plenty of controversy.

The New York Times has described Christie as "slick as sandpaper," but his bold personality is also popular.

Peggy Noonan, writing in the Wall Street Journal, said that Christie's "big, rumpled, garrulous, Jersey-blunt" style "has captured the imagination of the political class, and also normal people. They look at him and think, 'I know that guy. I like that guy.'"

Christie was elected New Jersey's governor in November 2009, defeating incumbent Democrat Jon Corzine.

Neither a Tea Party Republican nor part of the Beltway establishment, Christie came to power as states across the country confronted vast budget shortfalls.

In his own state, Christie helped reduce the state's multi-billion dollar budget deficit through fiscal reforms, layoffs and tough cuts to education and other state services. Last year, the governor signed a state budget that was the smallest in five years.

As the governor of one of the bluest of blue states, Christie's national popularity and reputation are based more on those fiscal positions and far less on his positions on social issues like abortion, which he opposes, and civil unions, which he supports.

Perhaps none of Christie's actions as governor have drawn more attention than his ongoing battle with New Jersey's powerful teachers' unions. The unions have become a principal target, with the governor criticizing both teachers' pay and performance.

Christie has cut pension benefits for teachers and called on them to pay for more of their health care. Under a proposal Christie introduced in January, New Jersey public school teachers would be stripped of tenure and paid based in part on their students' performance.

"Teaching can no longer be the only profession where you have no rewards for excellence and no consequences for failure to perform," Christie said during his first State of the State address in January.

But his administration has also taken heat for a $400 million mistake, after a flawed application for federal "Race to the Top" education fund was rejected. Finger-pointing ensued between the governor, federal officials and Christie's own state officials, but the missing data meant that New Jersey missed out on a major source of funds.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Tea Party Senators Target Birthright Citizenship for Immigrant Children

Comstock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- A posse of Tea Party Republicans in the U.S. Senate this week opened a new front in the crusade against birthright citizenship with draft legislation that would bar children of illegal immigrants from becoming citizens.

Senators David Vitter of Louisiana, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Mike Lee of Utah and Jerry Moran of Kansas say their bill requires the federal government to limit automatic citizenship to children born to at least one parent who is a citizen, legal resident, or member of the military.

The senators say a misinterpretation of the Constitution, which grants birthright citizenship under the 14th Amendment, has led to tens of thousands of "anchor babies" -- children of illegal immigrants or foreign tourists, born in the U.S., who can in turn sponsor legal residency for their parents and extended families.

"It's astounding that the U.S. government allows individuals to exploit the loopholes of our immigration system in this manner," said Vitter during debate on the Senate floor.  "It's obvious that Congress has the authority and the obligation to put an end to it."

The Pew Hispanic Center estimates 340,000, or eight percent, of the 4.3 million newborns in U.S. hospitals in 2008 belonged to illegal immigrant parents.  In total, four million U.S.-born, citizen children of illegal immigrants currently live in the country, according to the study released last year.

Republicans say a change to the law would also effectively end "birth tourism," or the practice of foreign women traveling to the U.S. with the express purpose of giving birth here so that their children would automatically have American citizenship.  A nascent industry of travel agencies and hotel chains has emerged, seeking to profit from the business.

But immigration advocates say the assault on birthright citizenship discriminates against children, who have no say in the matter, and is nothing more than a political ploy to rally the conservative base.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


What a Government Shutdown Might Look Like

ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- No one in Washington is saying what exactly a government shutdown would entail if lawmakers can't reach a deal before Friday on the 2011 fiscal budget, or at least come up with another continuing resolution so things can operate for another week while they keep negotiating.

But if the last shutdown -- which spanned 21 days from 1995 into 1996 -- is any guide, here's what might happen initially:

1. No clean-up of toxic waste at Superfund sites.

2. Nobody answering hotlines at the National Institutes of Health.

3. No work on delinquent child-support or bankruptcy cases.

4. No national parks and federal tourist destinations open for business.  These shutdowns would also affect restaurants, hotels and airlines that depend on visitors to these sites.

5. No one to process payments to recipients of Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare electronically or take new enrollments.

6. Delayed benefits decisions for veterans.

7. No one to process passport and visa applications.

8. Interrupted waste disposal at the National Zoo.

9. Locked doors at the Library of Congress and presidential libraries.

10. Delayed clinical trials and decisions on regulating new drugs and devices related to public health and safety.

Of course, workers responsible for these agencies and programs would also be furloughed during a shutdown, meaning they aren't getting paid.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Debbie Wasserman Schultz Will Be New DNC Chair

Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- With the announcement Tuesday that current DNC Chair Tim Kaine is running for the Senate in Virginia comes news that Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz will replace him.

Wasserman Schultz, 44, brings some significant assets to the table. Besides the obvious fact that she’s a woman, she’s also a proven fundraiser and a skilled on-air surrogate. A breast cancer survivor, she is also a close friend of Rep. Gabby Giffords.

The official announcement came in the form of an email from Vice President Biden to DNC members.

"In selecting Debbie to lead our party, President Obama noted her tenacity, her strength, her fighting spirit, and her ability to overcome adversity. President Obama expressed great admiration for her as a leader, and he was honored that she accepted this important challenge on behalf of the Democratic Party," writes Biden.

Now that she has been nominated to the DNC job, the full committee will vote on her nomination. This is really a formality since DNC members aren't going to buck the president.

If she wins the election, she will become the first woman elected by the full membership to serve as chair. There have been two other women who have served as chair of the DNC but one was on an interim basis and one was appointed but never stood for election.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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