Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, Mike Rogers & Dutch Ruppersberger on "State of the Union"

Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, Mike Rogers & Dutch Ruppersberger on "State of the Union"

By State of the Union - April 1, 2012

CROWLEY: Joining me from Louisville, Kentucky, senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell. Thank you, senator, for joining us.

I want to talk to you about gas prices. I know that you have suggested that this seems like a weird political move for the president to be making, that you don't think it will be popular. And I want to show our viewers a recent CNN/ORC poll, and it's about who do you blame for these gas prices? Oil companies, 55 percent, foreign countries 34 percent, the situation in Iran 28 percent.

And here's what I want to ask you about. President Obama's policies, 24 percent blame him for the rising gas prices. But 21 percent, just 3 percent fewer, blame Republicans.

So this does not look like a clear-cut case of a political blunder. A lot of people blame Republicans.

MCCONNELL: Well, why don't we just look at the facts, regardless of how polls may reflect about how people feel about the oil industry, which is not at all surprising. The Congressional Research Service, which is not a polling operation, but analyzes objectively legislation, says if you raise taxes on oil production, the price of the gas at the pump goes even higher. So this is an absurd suggestion when you've got $4 gasoline.

What the president ought to be doing is approving the Keystone pipeline. This is this massive private sector project that will bring energy down from our friendly neighbor, Canada, to the United States. He's blocking it. What he's got to do is increase public production on public land. Land in federal -- within the federal jurisdiction, production is down 14 percent.

He points, however, to increased production that he had nothing to do with. It's up 96 percent on state owned land and private land.

The president is simply standing in the way of increasing domestic production.

The American people know that it's absurd for the most energy rich country in the world to be locking up such a huge percentage of its resources.

CROWLEY: But, senator, just in terms of the fairness issue, which is very important to Americans and to politicians, one hopes, the oil companies are making record profits, and yet taxpayers are paying for these loopholes for oil companies, which are basically tax breaks. And so just on the face of it, sir, it certainly does seem to a lot of Americans that people who are making record profits shouldn't be taking taxes that we're paying on April 15th, to get their tax breaks.

MCCONNELL: Well, you know, with all due respect, you're using all the Democratic talking points. And that's all quite interesting.

CROWLEY: Well, I use the Republican ones for a Democrat. So, you know.

MCCONNELL: All right.

But let me make the point again in case anybody missed it. The issue is the price of gas at the pump. If you raise taxes on the producers of gasoline, you drive the prices even higher. Does anyone think we need higher gas prices when they're already at $4 a gallon?

I mean, this is not the way to lower the price of gas at the pump. This is not so much about a diversion, about discussion of fairness. We do need to reform the whole tax code. We're in favor of that. It's been 25 years since we actually reformed the tax code. As of today, we have the highest corporate tax rate in the world. As of April 1st, the highest corporate tax rate in the world. And some people may think, gee, that's great. All that does is make our companies uncompetitive. And even the president himself has said we need to get a corporate tax rate down.

At the same time, he's trying to selectively raise taxes on some corporations, and to do that would drive the price of gas at the pump even higher. This is a terrible idea.

CROWLEY: Let me move you to the economy in general and something you said to me at the end of January when we last spoke.


MCCONNELL: Candy, there's no mistaking, we are living in the Obama economy.


CROWLEY: The Obama economy, to an increasing number of Americans, is looking pretty good -- GDP is up, gross domestic product is up, unemployment is down, the housing still remains a problem, but we've seen record activity on Wall Street. As we move into September, does this not make it a lot more difficult for you all to run on Obama-nomics or whatever you want to call it? Doesn't it make is it difficult for Republicans to say the economy is not working, when, in fact, it does seem to be at this point?

MCCONNELL: I certainly hope we are seeing signs of recovery. And there's a modest recovery, apparently, underway. What we do still have, though, is 8.3 percent unemployment. What we have is an increase in the national debt of 43 percent under this president. Our national debt now is the size of our economy. That is not a prescription for a healthy economy long term.

Almost no one is predicting that we're going to get back to what most Americans consider sort of normal unemployment rate of around 5.5 percent any time in the foreseeable future.

So yes, we're encouraging by the fact that the economy seems to be gaining some momentum.

CROWLEY: And we're not on the cliff anymore, correct?

MCCONNELL: Is that good enough? We're used to having a vibrant, robust economy. More and more businesses tell me this is not any longer the best place in the world to do business. We're driving jobs overseas because of too much government, too much taxation, regulation.

Look, this is not an administration that's friendly to those people who create jobs and make the economy grow for all of us.

So, yeah, I think the economy is still going to be an issue in the fall. We're certainly pleased there's some signs of growth.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you what you think of Mitt Romney.

MCCONNELL: I think he's going to be an excellent candidate. And I think the chances are overwhelming that he will be our nominee. It seems to me we're in the final phases of wrapping up this nomination. And most of the members of the Senate Republican conference are either supporting him, or they have the view that I do, that it's time to turn our attention to the fall campaign and begin to make the case against the president of the United States.

CROWLEY: So why not endorse him?

MCCONNELL: Look, the people of Wisconsin are going to speak Tuesday and the District of Columbia and Maryland. I have not felt that they needed any advice from me as to what to do, but I think it's absolutely apparent that it's in the best interests of our party at this particular point to get behind the person who is obviously going to be our nominee and to begin to make the case against the president of the United States.

CROWLEY: But wouldn't the endorsement of the Republican leader in the Senate move you toward your goal, which is it's time to make our case against the president and wrap up this primary? I guess that's why I'm a little confused.

MCCONNELL: Well, you know, the Kentucky primary is in late May. I'm not sure the voters of Wisconsin or the district or Maryland need any advice from me, but it is clear that we are moving toward having a nominee. I think he will be an outstanding nominee. I think he can win the election.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you one final thing by playing something that congressman Paul Ryan had to say about the military and their budget proposal.


RYAN: We don't think the generals are giving us their true advice. We don't think the generals believe their budget is really the right budget.


CROWLEY: Do you agree with the congressman?

MCCONNELL: I think we have to take the generals' word as they give it to us. There has clearly been dissent within the Pentagon about the administration's recommendations for steep defense cuts. I know there's been a big debate within the Pentagon. We hear about it. We're aware of it. We're going to move in the direction of making sure that America still is number one in the world in defense, and the defense sequester, which I suspect Congressman Ryan was referring to, is something that many of us are looking at as something that could put us in a position to no longer be number one.

CROWLEY: OK. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, thanks for your time this morning.

MCCONNELL: Thank you.

CROWLEY: Congressman Paul Ryan says his budget plan will bring down the nation's debt, but it also could give Democrats ammunition in the fall.


JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT: He sold it to all of his Republican colleagues by telling them there's a new way to talk about what they're going to do without getting hurt politically. The American people, though, especially us, where we are in our lives, we're not about to be fooled. I think -- I have more faith in the American people than I think our Republican colleagues do.



CROWLEY: Joining me now from his home state of Wisconsin is Congressman Paul Ryan.

Welcome, Congressman. Since you are there and you have just recently endorsed Mitt Romney, what's going to happen in the primary Tuesday night?

RYAN: Well, I think he's going to win Wisconsin. But he's taking nothing for granted. He's barnstorming the state, did a town hall meeting yesterday, doing town hall meetings today and the next couple of days. So I feel pretty good about it.

But it's always a close race here in Wisconsin, whether it's the General Election or the primary election.

CROWLEY: So if Mitt Romney beats Rick Santorum, his primary rival right now, in Wisconsin, he won't have the requisite number, 1,144 delegates, but is it for all intents and purposes over if Wisconsin goes for Romney?

RYAN: I think so. Yes, I think Rick would need something like 82 percent of the rest of the delegates. That's just not going to happen. So if Mitt wins Wisconsin, and they also have Maryland and D.C. the same day, if he gets a big delegate count, which I think he'll get, then we believe, as conservatives, that we should coalesce around our nominee and focus on the task at hand, which is the fall election, and not drag this thing out, which I think becomes counterproductive.

CROWLEY: Let me talk to you a little bit about -- you know, this is now the time that we all join in our favorite parlor game and talk about the number two on a Romney ticket should he, in fact, clinch this down the line. I know you've said that you, of course, you would listen to an offer or, you know, any kind of discussion about it.

But let me ask you more generally. Usually, the number two on the ticket helps balance out the number one. It sort of fills in the gaps. What kind of number two do you think Mitt Romney needs? What does he need balancing out for -- or of?

RYAN: Whatever he thinks helps him win the fall and helps him govern afterwards.

CROWLEY: Well, what do you think helps him win in the fall?

RYAN: Honestly, I don't know if it's the geography thing. There are a lot of conventional wisdom. What I think matters is, is he putting together the right kind of team to take the right kind of referendum to the country, to offer the country the choice of two futures?

And is he getting somebody who is ready for the job and who can help him govern and deliver upon the reforms in which he's going to campaign on this fall?

So I have no clue who that's going to be, what kind of person or where they come from. It's really -- I don't see the point of speculating on all of that. We have jobs to do where we are. I have a job to do as budget chairman, as a Wisconsin representative. I'm focused on that.

And so let's get this primary taken care of. And then everybody can worry and speculate about the rest of it.

CROWLEY: Would you, for instance -- let me just try one more time on this. Would you, for instance, go for someone who is seen as a little more working class? We know that when President Obama was a candidate and he was selecting a number two, they felt that there was a certain kind of -- he seemed a bit removed from people. And they wanted someone who really spoke to blue collar workers.

Does Mitt Romney need that as well in a number two?

RYAN: You know, I'm really not the political pundit type, Candy. I'm very much of a policy person. I'm focused on doing my job. So it's just not my forte to get into that kind of speculation. Because I'm just busy trying to do my job. And right now my job is being the congressman for the First Congressional District in Wisconsin, and as budget chairman, trying to prevent a debt crisis from sinking our economy and destroying our children's future. So, honestly, that's what I'm focused on.

So I'm really not the right guy to ask about all those things.

CROWLEY: OK. Then let me talk to you about something you are an expert on, and that is the budget process and the budget. You unveiled -- Republicans unveiled this budget. And I want to speak to you about something that Congressman Steve LaTourette, I know you know him, he's a Republican from Ohio. And here's what he said about the budget process. "I'm tired of passing bills in the House, watching them die in the Senate, and pretending that counts as success. Americans want us to work together like adults, pass a budget with bipartisan support in both houses, and have it signed into law. A partisan budget is not the way to go."

A partisan budget would be your budget, as he describes it. Why did you put out a budget that surely you knew would only pass with Republican votes in the House and would never pass muster in the Senate?

RYAN: Well, it's not going to pass muster in the Senate because the Senate is not going to budget. I mean, Harry Reid already announced, before we even brought our budget out, that he's not going to do a budget this year like he didn't do for the last two years.

He hasn't passed a budget in 1,000 days even though the budget law says we have to do this every year. And the way I look at this, Candy, is...

CROWLEY: Sure, but why not put something out there that they might be able to grab onto?

RYAN: ... what's the problem -- well, we think we did put things in here that they would be able to grab onto. Our Medicare reforms and our tax reforms reflect the emerging bipartisan consensus that has been around for some time, that Democrats in the past have gravitated toward.

So what we're showing in our budget is we believe that the seeds of a bipartisan compromise are there in this budget. The problem we have, Candy, are the Democratic leaders: Senator Reid, President Obama, they're not part of this consensus.

They're out in left field, not being a part of this dialogue, which is occurring between Republicans and Democrats. And so my point is, we need new leadership, new leadership in the Senate and in the White House, to realize this emerging bipartisan consensus and how best to preempt a debt crisis which will sink our economy and destroy our children's future. So we're advancing these ideas.

And then the other point is, we think we should lead with solutions. We think we should say, if there's a problem coming like a debt crisis, what is our specific plan for addressing this debt crisis and dealing with the drivers of our debt?

I love Steve LaTourette, I'm a big fan of Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, but unfortunately that budget didn't deal with the drivers of our debt. It keeps "Obama-care" in place. It doesn't deal with Medicare and Medicaid. And as a result of that, we still have a debt crisis.

And so I think we should put solutions that actually fix the problem, and that's what our budget attempts to do.

CROWLEY: You also, in the middle of the unveiling of the budget, criticized the military, essentially kind of accused them of lying about what they really needed. That you wanted to put more money into the military than they said they needed.

I want to read you what the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff had to say in The Wall Street Journal, General Martin Dempsey. "There's a difference between having someone say they don't believe what you said versus calling us collectively liars. My response is, I stand by my testimony. This was very much a strategy-driven process to which we mapped the budget."

The military is a little offended by your words.

RYAN: Yes -- no, I really misspoke, to be candid with you, Candy. I didn't mean to make that kind of an impression. So I was clumsy in how I was describing the point I was trying to make. And the point I was trying to make -- and General Dempsey and I spoke after that. And we -- I wanted to give that point to him, which was, that was not what I was attempting to say.

What I was attempting to say is, President Obama put out his budget number for the Pentagon first, $500 billion cut, and then they began the strategy review to conform the budget to meet that number.

We think it should have been the other way around.

RYAN: What is the best strategy for our military and so we have a strategy driven budget. Now the result of our review of the president's budget on the military was we should cut $3 billion from the Pentagon budget over the next 10 years instead of the $500 billion.

And that difference we believe is the difference between getting savings and efficiency out of the Pentagon versus hollowing out our military, short-changing our Navy, our Air Force, stretching our Guard and Reserves too fast. And so we just believe that what we got from the White House was more of a budget driven strategy, not a strategy driven budget. And I did not mean to impugn the...


RYAN: ...military anyway and I misspoke on that front.

CROWLEY: Have you apologized to him?

RYAN: Yeah, I called him to -- told him that.


RYAN: Yeah.

CROWLEY: So finally in your state -- just some state business here, your governor, Scott Walker is up for a recall because of some of the ideas that he put in, in budgeting for the state of Wisconsin. If he loses that recall, it will look very much and certainly it will be translated as a repudiation of conservatism and efforts to cut the budget. Would you buy into that analysis?

RYAN: Yeah, I do. I think it's a momentum causing event one way or the other. I don't think Scott's going to lose the recall, by the way. But it will cause the momentum like you discussed I think here in Wisconsin. And what will happen is, politicians will no longer be courageous if this is what happens to them. They'll no longer take on the drivers of their debt and the root causes of their state or federal problems if this is what you get. What Scott did was, he said I'm going to reform the budget in structural ways if I get elected.

Then he got elected. Then he did it. I talked to a school district superintendent the other day who saved $1.6 million just by allowing open bidding on health insurance instead of having the union, you know plan which was required, a monopoly plan in collective bargaining. She put new reforms in her school district that gets teachers in the classroom and -- and reforms the education system. So I think as people in Wisconsin realize that these reforms are working really well, I think he's going to be vindicated. And I think the momentum is going to be rewarding those politicians who take on these tough issues.

CROWLEY: We will talk to you again in June after that recall vote. Thank you so much Congressman Paul Ryan, appreciate your time. Secretary of state Hillary Clinton is in Turkey in search of support for the Obama team's policy in Syria. But voices on the right want more than words.


(UNKNOWN): For the greatest power in the world for good to be indifferent, leading from behind, is not our finest moment.



CROWLEY: Time for a check of today's top stories. Back from his trip to Cuba, Pope Benedict XIV marked the start of Christianity's holy week with a Palm Sunday mass in St. Peters Square. During his visit to the communist nation, Benedict asked Cuban president Raul Castro to make Good Friday a holiday. The Cuban government yesterday announced it would grant the pope's request.

President Obama will hold talks with leaders of Mexico and Canada at the White House tomorrow. The talks are expected to focus heavily on the violence from Mexico's drug war and will be the last for Mexican President Felipe Calderon, who is not seeking reelection.

Rebels in Mali say they've seized control of a key town in the northern part of the country. Demonstrations were hold in Gao earlier this week to protest the rebels. Their seizure of the town is considered a major blow to rival coup (ph) leaders who ousted Mali's president last month. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says this is an urgent moment for Syria. She's in Turkey today for a friends of Syria conference. Clinton warned that Bashar Al-Assad's regime would face serious consequences if it doesn't stop killing civilians. The U.N. estimates that more than 9,000 people had been killed since uprisings began in Syria a year ago. Those are the top stories this morning. Ahead, I'll ask the leaders of the House Intelligence Committee if they think it's a good idea to arm the Syrian opposition.


CROWLEY: Joining me now Congressman Mike Rogers. He is the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. And Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger, the ranking Democrat on the same committee and friends. Good heavens. Miracles do occur.


CROWLEY: I know. It really is. I want to read you something that Hillary Clinton is -- from her to be delivered remarks to the Friends of Syrian People. And she said today, "Our message must be clear to those who give the orders and those who carry them out. Stop killing your fellow citizens or you will face serious consequences. Your countrymen will not forget and neither will the international community." Now this war has been going on -- this rebellion has been going on for a solid year. Is Syria -- is the Syrian government even moved by remarks by this? Because it sounds pretty much like what we've said all along.

ROGERS: I don't think they are. I think they've got two things that you don't -- you didn't see in other places like Tunisia and Egypt. You have external forces who are supporting them...


ROGERS: ...significantly. Iran and Russia. Both have stepped up to the plate and can't afford, in their minds, can't afford to lose Syria as their toe-hold. And in the Iranian's case it's a proxy for them as well.

CROWLEY: And isn't -- isn't the truth that we don't want to get involved in something like this? It would be like lighting a match in the Middle East at this point. We don't want to get involved in this.

RUPPERSBERGER: Well, the United States can't be sheriff of the whole world. We can work together. I think the formula that was used with Libya where NATO came together. Where you had the Arab League. But I think what's happening with Assad is that he is using the same formula that was used -- used in Iran. He's playing hardball with his people. He's killing his people and right now the opposition is not as strong as oppositions in other areas, such -- such as in Egypt. CROWLEY: So, is arming the rebels a good idea for the U.S. to get involved in?

ROGERS: I think we both agree that's probably a bad idea. Mainly because we just don't know who they are. They haven't...


ROGERS: ...well I understand that. We think that there are other things that we can do that we haven't quite engaged in yet and that probably need to happen short of arming the rebels. And remember, giving a whole series of weapons to people who we don't know who they are, there are some bad actors there as well, probably doesn't bode well for us in the long run.


RUPPERSBERGER: Syria's also a lot more sophisticated as far as their weaponry is concerned...

CROWLEY: Then Libya?

RUPPERSBERGER: Libya and other areas in -- in the Middle East. But also they have a cadre of weapons that are very dangerous. And we are concerned, just like we were in Libya that if they -- if these weapons of mass destruction, if the chemical or biological weapons get in the hands of -- of terrorists or other groups, that could be very detrimental to the Middle East. But also to -- to the national security of the United States. CROWLEY: So it is better not to arm this group than to allow him to crush the opposition? Which is likely going to happen if there's no -- I mean he already is.

ROGERS: Sure, but I don't think we're saying that. I think there's other ways and some other things that we can do. Let me give you an example. Through the Arab League. I think the Arab League is willing and ready to step up, to take more aggressive action against Assad in Syria. We should be a part of that in a support role that I think is much better for the United States in the long run. And then we can do some other things from the United States perspective to put pressure on the Assad regime so that you have -- you do it in concert with each other without sending in arms and hoping for the best. I think that has not worked well for us in the past and I think in this particular case, wouldn't work well for us either.

CROWLEY: Is there any sign -- I know one of the things we looked for in Libya, there were signs that the inner circle was crumbling. Any signs of that with Bashar al-Assad?

RUPPERSBERGER: I think from the beginning that most of the leadership have been very loyal to Assad. But Assad makes sure that the way he runs his government, that he has people around him, including his representative to the United Nations, including the ambassador to the United States, that they are always focused on their plan, and that plan is to keep dominance over their people.

It's unfortunate that so many people have been killed there. It's wrong. But at this point, there's so many hot spots, that we need to have the whole region come together. We just can't have the United States come there by themselves.

CROWLEY: Alone. And there's -- and we should add, there's absolutely zero American support for such a thing, so --

RUPPERSBERGER: I would think so at this point.

ROGERS: We don't really see Assad's inner circle crumbling. Remember, they're having a lot of victory supported by external forces like Iran, like Russia. So they, in their minds, they -- this is all a zero-sum game for them. They realize that, if they --

CROWLEY: They don't think the world is coming.

ROGERS: They really don't. They believe that they're winning, and we certainly believe that, through intelligence collection, they believe they're winning this.

RUPPERSBERGER: Remember, they're getting support from Iran. Iran does not want Syria to fold at all. Hezbollah is very close to this area, and Russia has been supporting them also. So they do have their allies.

CROWLEY: Let me move you to Iran, since they're in the region and obviously involved in that, and something that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Saturday.


HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: What is certain, however, is that Iran's window to seek and obtain a peaceful resolution will not remain open forever.


CROWLEY: Also sounds like something we've been saying now for three or four or five or six years. When does it just look like bluster? And this comes off, we should say, the president has tightened up sanctions, is trying to move the world towards cutting off oil profits to Iran and further squeeze them.

When is the line? When is the time? That there is action other than sanctions?

ROGERS: I will tell you this, that one of the problems with this -- and we both agree we needed to move sanctions forward; I applaud the president for moving up a July date to going after petroleum, huge, that's very important. Continue that pressure.

But as long as Iran does not believe that they are serious when they say all options are on the table, the window is closing, they're going to continue to do what they do. And so I think we need to increase the sanctions as -- and this is an important step. There's more to do.

CROWLEY: As the president has done.

ROGERS: Absolutely, at the request of Congress -- and then clearly demonstrate that the military option is on the table. Not that we should use it, but they need to understand that we're serious. If it's all going to work --

CROWLEY: How do you do that? How do you -- ?

ROGERS: I would argue you could do exercises. You could predeploy certain weapons systems.

CROWLEY: Saber rattle?

ROGERS: Well, you know, walk softly and carry a big stick. They need to believe in the big stick part, and if they don't believe it, it won't work, and that's the part of the equation we've got to put back together.

RUPPERSBERGER: Personally, I think the sanctions are clearly working. They're having an effect on Iran's economy like they've never had before. There's a very important meeting that's going to occur April 13th and 14th, meeting with Iran to make a determination of how they're going to cooperate. United States of America is the strongest country in the world. Iran knows this.

I think, when they threatened to close the Straits of Hormuz, we sent in our aircraft carrier, and they backed down. So I think that we have to have the leverage.

And I think, again, the formula that we used in Libya is what we need to do to make sure that they don't get nuclear weapons. But President Obama basically said that containment is not an issue, containment meaning get the nuclear weapons and then we'll contain. That's off the table.

CROWLEY: Not going to happen.

RUPPERSBERGER: So we have to be strong and let them know we mean business.

CROWLEY: Finally, let me ask you, the president this week was caught in a microphone, in a meeting with the president of Russia, where he sort of leaned over and said, hey, could you deliver a message to me -- to Putin, incoming president -- and tell him on this whole missile defense thing, I can't do much now. I've got more flexibility after the election.

Were you at all bothered by that, Congressman Ruppersberger?

RUPPERSBERGER: Well, to begin with, whatever you're saying off the record, who knows what the meaning was? I have confidence that the president is making the right decisions. There's a lot of issues that are out there in the Middle East and everywhere else.

Also with respect to Russia, Putin, as we know, is a strong leader. He was former KGB. And so we have to work our relationship with his. Politics, a lot of things happen in politics. People are trying to get elected. So I'm not going to make a judgment what he said. I have confidence in the president and that he is going to do the right thing to protect our country 100 percent.

CROWLEY: I've got to leave it there. We've run out of time.

ROGERS: I disagree.

CROWLEY: OK. And you disagree. You were uncomfortable with the remark?

ROGERS: I'm very uncomfortable, and what it means for the United States and what it means for our missile defense posture and our allies' reaction to it, all very troubling.

CROWLEY: Congressman Rogers, Congressman Ruppersberger, thank you so much.

ROGERS: OK. Good, thanks.


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