By MICHAEL FALCONE (@michaelpfalcone)
- SOUTH CAROLINA’S COMEBACK KID: After an infamous Argentine affair tarnished his governorship in 2009, and after state officials slapped him with 37 ethics charges later that year for unrelated trips, Mark Sanford left office as one of the nation’s top political pariahs. Last night, as ABC’s CHRIS GOOD reports, he pulled off a political comeback some thought impossible. Sanford reclaimed the South Carolina House seat he held in the 1990s. With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Sanford defeated Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch, 54.2 percent to 45.3 percent. Sanford defeated Colbert Busch, the sister of Comedy Central host Stephen Colbert, despite her significant cash advantage — and despite some aggressive ads from outside Democratic groups highlighting the affair that ended his marriage and his term as governor. http://abcn.ws/11SifGK
- HE SAID: “I said from the beginning of this campaign that we are indeed at a tipping point in this civilization, and that if we didn’t get things right there would be real consequences for the American dollar, American savings, and the American way of life,” Sanford told supporters last night. From the beginning, Sanford sought forgiveness and appeared humbled. “I have experienced how none of us go through life without mistakes, but in their wake we can learn a lot about grace, a God of second chances, and be the better for it,” Sanford told voters in his first TV ad.
- SHE SAID: “We knew it would be an uphill climb,” Colbert Busch said in her concession speech last night. “My only pledge was to the people of South Carolina’s First Congressional District.” ABC’s CHRIS GOOD notes, South Carolina’s First District is solidly Republican and hasn’t been represented by a Democrat since 1981. Sanford clearly enjoyed a partisan edge going into this race, and operatives in the state speculated beforehand that Sanford might be the only Republican in the 16-way primary field who could lose the seat to a Democrat. http://abcn.ws/11SifGK
- WHAT’S NEXT? Sanford is due in Charleston County Family Court tomorrow with his ex-wife Jenny to answer for allegations that he trespassed at her home earlier this year in violation of the couple’s divorce agreement. As ABC’s JEFF ZELENY notes, Sanford is set to be sworn into Congress on Friday — or next week.
ABC’s CHRIS GOOD: Mark Sanford did it. What’s most remarkable about his comeback to Congress isn’t that he resurrected himself after an epic, messy scandal in 2009, it’s that his comeback run itself appeared dead just a few weeks ago. After Jenny Sanford’s trespassing allegations surfaced in mid-April, it looked like Sanford was done for — again. As Sanford traipsed around his district, re-introducing himself to voters, debating a cardboard “Nancy Pelosi,” and leading an NBC camera on a search for a woman who “hates” him, Sanford was right all along: voters forgave, and if they didn’t like his personal life, they put that aside and gave him a second chance. He did it in a state and district where social conservatism and family values hold sway, but that’s also why he won: Sanford enjoyed a big partisan edge, and in the end a Republican district that voted for Romney in November remained Republican. Weirdly, Sanford will have to appear in court tomorrow to explain his alleged trespassing to a judge. But he can rest easy: this district will likely stay Republican for election cycles to come, meaning Sanford is going to be a fixture in Congress.
ABC’s JEFF ZELENY: It’s back to Benghazi. The House Oversight Committee hearing today is significant. Congressional Republicans will finally get their day before the cameras to press for the details they’ve been seeking from the Obama administration on whether more could have been done to prevent the deaths of four Americans last September in the attack on the diplomatic compound in Libya. This could propel Benghazi from a conservative cause into the mainstream. You can bet the White House is watching closely. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is, too. And Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa hopes it is the first of many days in the spotlight as he challenges the administration in its second term.
ABC’s RICK KLEIN: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie capped a hectic day with a virtuoso comedy performance last night, aimed at a small but influential crowd. He took some barbs at the annual New Jersey Legislative Correspondents’ Club dinner — only a few about his weight. He gave as good as he got, with friendly mockery that included a mostly serious line about how much he loves Trenton. His effort to control his weight will shape the national Christie story, but without the local story the national one won’t be worth telling. Christie knows that – just as his team knows that a personal struggle with weight is now bound to be much more than that.
ABC’s SHUSHANNAH WALSHE: Chris Christie held an extensive press conference Tuesday answering almost every possible question about his lap band surgery. He said it wasn’t about his eyes being on the White House, but for “myself, my wife, and my children.” “And unlike some of you, they will still pay attention to me whether I run for President or not…it may sound odd to people, but this is a hell of a lot more important to me than running for President.” But, is it both? Political observers say this keeps more options open for Christie and his weight will no longer be an obstacle if he does want to make a run for president in 2016. One thing the New Jersey governor made clear yesterday is get all your questions in now because “this is it” and there will be no weight loss updates. “You ask me any more questions about this and I am not answering,” Christie said. “This is your shot today.”
ON THE HILL: BACK TO BENGHAZI. The top deputy to the U.S. ambassador killed during the Sept. 11, 2012 attack in Benghazi is set to deliver much-anticipated testimony today that could contradict the administration’s explanation of the deadly attack that took the lives of four Americans, ABC’s JOHN PARKINSON notes. Gregory Hicks, the deputy chief of mission for the U.S. in Libya, will appear before the House Oversight and Government Reform committee at 11:30 a.m. today. Hicks, a 22-year Foreign Service diplomat, became the highest-ranking civilian in Libya after U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens was killed in the attack, which the administration initially characterized as a spontaneous demonstration that turned into a violent attack. Two other State Department officials — Mark Thompson, the acting deputy assistant secretary for counterterrorism, and Eric Nordstrom, the diplomatic security officer and former regional security officer in Libya — will join Hicks at the hearing titled: “Exposing Failure and Recognizing Courage.” The officials are also expected to be quizzed by committee members about emails showing administration officials may have deliberately downplayed what had transpired just six weeks shy of the presidential election. http://abcn.ws/16XGVn4
HOPE FOR GUN DEBATE SECOND ACT RESTS ON NEW BILL. The uphill battle for reviving the gun debate in Congress comes into sharp view after talking to Senator Jeff Flake, a Republican who opposed the bill to expand background checks. After voting against the legislation on April 17, he has faced withering criticism at home in Arizona, ABC’s JEFF ZELENY reports. So have the protests and the pressure from gun control advocates prompted him to reconsider his view on the bipartisan plan put forward by Senators Joe Manchin and Pat Toomey? “No. No!” Flake told reporters at the Capitol on Tuesday. “I’m comfortable where I am. I don’t feel the need to change for political reasons. Some articles are implying that, but not at all.” It remains far from certain the gun debate will see a second act. Supporters say they hope to take another vote before the August recess. But its future hinges on whether Flake and a handful of senators are able to make significant changes in the legislation intended to expand background checks for people buying guns on-line and at gun shows. “I don’t know that they can change it enough,” Flake said. “I doubt that they could change it sufficiently because they would lose votes on the left.” The frustration in Flake’s voice as he talked to reporters just off the Senate floor underscored the difficult road ahead for new gun control legislation. And even if the Senate would consider it again, House Republican leaders have shown little interest in bringing up the bill to expand background checks. WATCH Zeleny’s interview with Flake: http://abcn.ws/10EYlMY
SEN. CHRIS MURPHY: ‘WE CAN’T BRING BACK THE BILL’. “We can’t bring back the bill as it is,” Senator Chris Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut, told Zeleny in an interview Tuesday. “Clearly this bill is going to have to look differently in order to allow members to face their constituents and explain why they changed their minds.” Murphy, a supporter who stood for hours on the Senate floor during the debate and recited the stories of victims of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in his home state, said he believed the public pressure from his side could work. But he also said expanded mental health treatment would be needed for the bill to pass, even while addressing other concerns like the cost of background checks and provisions to help draw support from more rural senators. “We’re going to get a second shot at a gun bill – after we finish immigration,” he said. http://abcn.ws/10EYlMY
CHRIS CHRISTIE SAYS LAP-BAND SURGERY IS ALL ABOUT FAMILY. Chris Christie got Lap-Band surgery to help slim down, but as ABC’s SHUSHANNAH WALSHE notes, the New Jersey governor says it’s not about a run for the White House, despite all the speculation. “I did this for myself, my wife, and my children,” Christie said yesterday. “And unlike some of you, they will still pay attention to me whether I run for president or not. The fact is, it has nothing to do with running for governor this year, with running for president at any time in my life, if I ever decided to do that, and I said this yesterday, it may sound odd to people, but this is a hell of a lot more important to me than running for president. This is about my family’s future. And that is a heck of a lot more important to me than the idea of running for President of the United States.” His surgery was revealed yesterday in a story in the New York Post. He said he kept it “secret” because it is “nobody else’s business.” In the extensive press conference, which went on almost an hour and consisted almost completely of queries about his surgery, he consistently denied this was about his family and not politics saying when he turned 50 in September he was “confronted” by his own “mortality” and the reality that he has four children, two of which are still in elementary school. “My decisions about anything to do with my career are based on what is best for me and best for my family,” Christie said. “And you know whatever size I happen to be when I have to make the decisions about what to do next in my career, I doubt that will play any role or effect in what I decide to do.”
NOTED: Just hours after New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie faced the press and questions about his newly revealed Lap-Band surgery he endured some friendly barbs from the New Jersey press corps last night, as well as throwing a few back himself, according to ABC’s SHUSHANNAH WALSHE, RICK KLEIN and JOSH MARGOLIN. Christie took the stage introduced as the “comic in chief” and quipped, “So what’s new?” He made fun of the press corps that just hours before were drilling him about his surgery, saying, “If these people were only as good reporters as they are singers.” Christie responded to the roast, applauding the group for coming up with the song about today’s news so quickly. “In 14 hours they come up with a song about my weight. A topic that’s never come up before in New Jersey,” Christie said with a smile. http://abcn.ws/18sJSLG
GAY-RIGHTS BACKERS SEE PROGRESS ONE YEAR SINCE PRESIDENT OBAMA BACKED GAY MARRIAGE. A year ago this week, President Obama folded himself into a chair in the White House Cabinet Room to make an announcement that had no impact on federal law or policy — but one that was filled with emotional meaning for the president and many of his strongest supporters. “I’ve just concluded that for me personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married,” the president told ABC News’ Robin Roberts in an interview last May 9. A year later, ABC’s RICK KLEIN notes, the politics of the issue have flipped almost completely, to the point where supporters of same-sex marriage are playing offense, not defense. Beyond the electoral battlefield, the president’s decision ushered in a year of lightning-fast movement on gay rights, with the impact felt in realms including the Boy Scouts, professional sports, and the Supreme Court. “It, quite simply, changed everything,” said Richard Socarides, a former Clinton White House senior adviser who had been critical of Obama’s hesitancy on gay-rights issues. “So much is dramatically different just a year later. It really shows the power of the presidency and the power of a presidential endorsement, especially in the very personal and moving way that this president did it.” Last fall, statewide ballot measures for the first time legalized gay marriage, with four states moving in unison on one day. Eleven states now allow gay marriage, with Rhode Island joining the list last week and Delaware coming on Tuesday. A handful more are shifting quickly in that direction. Nearly six in 10 Americans now believe gay marriage should be legal, a boost of 26 points inside a decade, according to a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll. http://abcn.ws/143aT4M
THE LIBERAL BACKLASH AGAINST MARK ZUCKERBERG INTENSIFIES. A coalition of liberal activist groups — including MoveOn.Org, Progressives United, the Sierra Club, the League of Conservation Voters, Democracy for America, CREDO, 350.org and Presente — want to hit Mark Zuckerberg where it hurts. The groups announced Tuesday that they plan to pull their existing paid ads from Facebook or hold off on purchasing new ones for at least two weeks. Why? ABC’s MICHAEL FALCONE writes that members of the coalition are furious at Zuckerberg and his new pro-immigration reform group, FWD.us, for running television commercials praising senators for opposing Obamacare and supporting an expansion of the Keystone oil pipeline and drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The ads were designed to provide political cover to politicians like Sen. Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, and Sen. Mark Begich, Democrat of Alaska, for a politically-risky vote in favor of a comprehensive immigration reform bill, which will make its way to the Senate Judiciary Committee this week. “Leaders in the technology community have every right to talk about how immigration reform will benefit their businesses,” said former Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold, founder of Progressives United, one of the leaders of the anti-Zuckerberg effort. “But instead, FWD.us has chosen a strategy that’s condescending to voters and counterproductive to the cause of reform.” The ads, paid for by FWD.us and produced by a pair of affiliated groups (one conservative and one liberal), are already off the air. They ran for one week, which, according to a FWD.us source, was the plan all along. http://abcn.ws/11ggGr2
TODAY AT THE WHITE HOUSE: This afternoon, President Obama meets with electric utility CEOs and their trade associations at the Energy Department, ABC’s MARY BRUCE notes. Later, he meets with a group of Asian American and Pacific Islanders national leaders at the White House to discuss immigration reform, health care, and the economy. In the evening, at 6:30 pm the president has dinner with Nancy Pelosi and members of the House Democratic Leadership at the Jefferson Hotel. Attendees include: House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Reps. Steny Hoyer, James Clyburn, Xavier Becerra, Representative Joe Crowley, Chris Van Hollen, Rosa DeLauro, Rob Andrews, Steve Israel and Mike Thompson.
WHAT WE’RE READING
“CONGRESS MEMBERS SPRINT FOR MONEY TO LOBBY AFTER ELECTION,” by Bloomberg’s Jonathan D. Salant. “Looking to expand its lobbying and government affairs practice, Covington & Burling LLP turned to those who know Congress best: elected officials just finishing their terms on Capitol Hill. The law firm in March hired Jon Kyl of Arizona, who last year was the second highest ranking Senate Republican, and Howard Berman, a California Democrat who was chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The two serve as senior advisers, sharing their expertise and personal knowledge about lawmakers with clients and colleagues lobbying on legislation and regulations. Since the November elections, at least 22 members of the last Congress took jobs with lobbying firms, running trade associations or handling government relations for organizations. That would increase by 14 percent over 2012 the number of former lawmakers now in the lobbying business, according to the Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks ex-lawmakers’ employment. Since 1998, a total of 338 former members of Congress have worked as lobbyists or joined such firms for at least some of the time since leaving office.” http://bloom.bg/12eM30D
WHAT WE’RE WATCHING
TEA PARTY LEADER: LINDSEY GRAHAM ‘BEGGING FOR A PRIMARY’ CHALLENGE. FreedomWorks president Matt Kibbe has a warning for Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and other GOP incumbents up for reelection in the 2014: don’t expect Tea Party support just because you’re already in Congress. “It’s utterly contrary to Republican philosophy, we believe in competition, we believe in open democratic processes and I think that leads to better candidates,” Kibbe told ABC’s RICK KLEIN and Yahoo! News’ OLIVIER KNOX. Kibbe singles Graham out as one of his Super PAC’s major targets in the midterm elections, citing Graham’s criticism of the filibuster over the Obama administration’s drone program led by Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-Ky.) as a major reason for replacing him. “The way he lashed out against Rand Paul…he’s begging for a primary,” says Kibbe, who continues on to say that he hopes to replace Graham with someone “who is worthy of that seat.” WATCH: http://yhoo.it/10aLS7O
IN THE NOTE’S INBOX
HAPPENING TONIGHT: DEBATING THE FDA’S CAUTION. Intelligence Squared sets the stage for a debate tonight in New York. The topic: “The Food and Drug Administration, the oldest comprehensive consumer protection agency in the U.S. federal government, is charged with protecting the public health. Under this mandate, it regulates drugs and medical devices for their safety and effectiveness. But is it a failing mandate? It’s long been argued that the FDA’s long and costly approval processes stifle innovation and keep life-changing treatments from the market. But the question remains: when it comes to public health, is it ever okay to sacrifice safety for speed?” Debaters are Scott Gottlieb (American Enterprise Institute) and Peter Huber (Manhattan Institute) for the motion with Dr. Jerry Avorn (Harvard Medical School) and Dr. David Challoner (University of Florida) against the motion. ABC’s JOHN DONVAN will moderate. The debate takes place at 6:45 P.M. ET. http://bit.ly/10Lp3Zu
@kakukowski: Who better understands people like yourself? (Cuccinelli 34%, McAuliffe 30%.)
@realDonaldTrump: I’m giving away money! 11AM Trump Tower. Be there or be left behind!