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US politics live: Eric Holder faces ‘Fast and Furious’ questions in Congress December 8, 2011

1.20pm: Virginia Tech is in lock-down after shots were heard near the campus:

Virginia Tech says a police officer has been shot, and a possible second victim has been reported at a parking lot near the campus.

Authorities are seeking a suspect.

A campus-wide alert tells students and faculty to stay inside and lock doors.

Virginia Tech, as most people will recall, was the site of the tragic shooting of 32 students and staff members by a student on the campus in 2007.

1.15pm: Erick Erickson, the influential conservative Republican and co-founder of RedState, says that the Republican presidential nomination may go to the floor of the Republican National Convention in Tampa next year:

I think it is time to move beyond wishful thinking and take seriously the idea of having a brokered convention with someone other than the current crop of candidates becoming the nominee.

Erickson is not a nut – and this is a sidelight in a longer piece he has written on the state of the GOP race. And my view that there is some wishful thinking going on there. But Erickson isn’t alone among Republicans in saying this.

1.01pm: The morning-after pill decision mentioned earlier has been the subject of considerable controversy, with the American Academy of Pediatrics calling Sebelius’ decision to keep the pill on sale behind pharamcy counters “medically inexplicable”.

AP reports:

Pediatricians say the morning-after pill is safe — containing a high dose of the same female hormone that’s in regular birth control pills — especially compared to some existing over-the-counter medicines.

“I don’t think 11-year-olds go into Rite Aid and buy anything,” much less a single pill that costs about $50, added fellow AAP member Dr Cora Breuner, a professor of pediatric and adolescent medicine at the University of Washington.

With all due respect to Dr Breuner, at my local branch of [national drugstore chain], a bright 11-year-old could probably get a job behind the counter.

12.43pm: At Eric Holder’s hearing, the attorney general says there is a suspect in the killing of US border agent Brian Terry – thought to have been killed by a gun obtained from the botched Fast and Furious operation – but that he can’t speak any further because a court has sealed the matter.

12.36pm: At Obama’s mini press conference, the subject of the “Plan B” morning-after pill came up, and the decision by the Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius to keep the drug behind pharmacy counters rather than on open shelves.

In response to a question, Obama says Sebelius was concerned a 10-year-old could get the medication, which could be dangerous. “Most parents would probably feel the same way,” Obama said.

The morning-after pill will still be available without a prescription to those 17 and older who can prove their age.

12.30pm: Some massive grandstanding going on by Darryl Issa, complete with props – a set of boxes showing the information he has received from a gun-dealer compared with a solitary box showing the information he received from the Justice Department.

I’m not quite sure what his point is but it looks good on television. Well, C-Span 3.

Sample quote from Issa: “When he comes before us saying he will clean house, no house has been cleaned.”

12.22pm: The Christian Science Monitor has an excellent overview of the position Eric Holder finds himself in over Fast and Furious and the chorus of Republicans calling for his resignation.

It also notes this:

While the White House has remained relatively quiet on Fast and Furious, other Democrats have come to Holder’s defense, saying Republican calls for resignation are clearly partisan, in part because they’ve largely ignored a smaller-scale gun-walking program, “Operation Wide Receiver,” implemented during the Bush administration. However, that program, unlike Fast and Furious, was a joint operation with Mexican authorities.

12.10pm: Back to Eric Holder, who is being grilled, baked and roasted by Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee over the failure of Fast and Furious.

Earlier, Republican congressman Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin told Holder:

If we don’t get to the bottom of this – and that requires your assistance on that – there is only one alternative that Congress has, and it’s called impeachment, where our subpoena powers are plenary and there can’t be any type of a legal immunity or privilege that can be asserted on that.

Now, you know, I’ve done more impeachments than anybody else in the history of the country. It is an expensive and messy affair. And I don’t want to go this far.

A rare moment of humour happened shortly after, from veteran Democrat John Conyers: “I merely wanted to clear the record with Jim Sensenbrenner. I’ve had far more impeachment experience than he has.”

12.04pm: And there’s this news: Iran’s state television appears to be showing video of the top secret US RQ-170 Sentinel drone that crash-landed inside Iran last week.

If the video is legitimate, the drone looks like it is intact.

12 noon: Asked about his vow to cut short his holiday until the payroll tax holiday is extended, Obama says he will delay his vacation to Hawaii until Congress acts: “I will not ask anybody to do something I’m not willing to do myself.”

With grim humour he looks at the assembled journalists and says: “Maybe we’ll have a white Christmas here in Washington.” Someone groans softly in the background.

11.56am: Obama is asked about Iran’s nuclear ambitions and what he means when he says he’s looking at all the options:

Obama: All options means I’m not taking any options off the table.

Reporter: Can you tell us what those options might be?

Obama: No.

Obama does go on to say that the US has imposed the toughest level of sanctions against Iran of any administration, and that Iran can either be isolated or “act responsibly”.

11.53am: On the European debt crisis, Obama says “obviously I am very concerned about what’s happening in Europe”. He says that he has repeatedly spoken to European leaders such as Merkel and Sarkozy, and the only question is political will:

It’s not as if we’re talking about some improvished country … this is Europe, with some of the wealthiest countries on earth.

Obama goes on to say:

We’re going to do everything we can to push them in a good direction on this … if we see Europe tank, that obviously could have a big impact on our ability to create jobs.

11.49am: Obama says he is still committed to appointing Richard Cordray as head of the Consumer Finance Protection Board – and won’t rule out a recess appointment (a constitutional device that allows the president to circumvent congressional approval):

Why wouldn’t we want somebody just to make sure people are being treated fairly? Especially when not only is a family affected but our whole economy is affected.

We have Republicans in Congress who appear to have entirely forgotten how we got into this mess.

The bottom line, according to Obama, “is we’re going to look at all our options. My hope is the Republicans come to their senses.”

11.42am: Speaking from the White House briefing room, President Obama says there was no reason for the Senate to block Richard Cordray’s nomination: “This makes absolutely no sense.”

Obama is now taking questions – and the first one is on the accusations by Republican presidential candidates that he has guilty of “appeasement” of Israel’s enemies.

Here’s Obama’s pithy response:

Ask Osama bin Laden and the 22 out of 30 top al-Qaida leaders who have been taken off the field whether I engage in appeasement. Or whoever is left out there, ask them about that.

Hard to argue with that.

11.20am: More Congressional gridlock: the Senate blocks the nomination of Richard Cordray as head of the new consumer watchdog, the Consumer Finance Protection Board. Despite winning the vote 53 to 45 Cordray’s nomination failed to clear the 60 votes required for cloture, in effect filibustering the nomination:

Republicans said they had three demands. One was for a five-member board to oversee the agency. Another was for “safety and soundness” checks of the agency’s decision-making. And they wanted the agency’s funding to be approved by Congress rather than have its budget approved by the Federal Reserve.

President Obama is to speak on the subject shortly.

11.13am: In attempt to derail the Newt Gingrich bandwagon, the Romney campaign sent out two surrogates this morning to attack his record – a sign that the GOP fight is getting more brutal, as the Los Angeles Times reports.

Former Missouri Senator Jim Talent – who served under Gingrich when he was Speaker of the House in the mid-1990s – and a Romney supporter, appeared at a press conference:

The speaker’s running as a reliable and trusted conservative leader. And what we’re here to say, with reluctance, but clearly, is that he’s not a reliable and trusted conservative leader because he’s not a reliable or trustworthy leader.

Former New Hampshire Governor John Sununu laced into Gingrich for his remarks about the Medicare proposals of Republican congressman Paul Ryan earlier this year:

For Newt Gingrich, in an effort of self-aggrandizement, to come out and throw a clever phrase that had no other purpose than to try and make him sound a little smarter than the conservative Republican leadership, to undercut Paul Ryan is the most self-serving, anti-conservative thing one can imagine happening.

That’s reference to Gingrich calling Ryan’s plans “right-wing social engineering”.

Things are heating up nicely.

11.41am: The committee is now going into recess to allow members to vote.

10.40am: Darryl Issa, the Republican chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, is next up to take a swing at Holder:

My committee just next door was systemically lied to by your own representatives. There is a high likelihood individual was deliberately duped, but he was duped by people who still work for you today, still work for you today.

The president has said he has full confidence in this attorney general. I have no confidence in a president who has full confidence in an attorney general who has in fact not terminated or dealt with the individuals, including key lieutenants who from the very beginning had some knowledge and long before Brian Terry was gunned down knew enough to stop this programme.

10.37am: Lamar Smith, the Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, is quickly on the attack, telling Eric Holder:

I am disappointed in the department’s repeated refusal to cooperate with this committee’s oversight request.

This lack of cooperation is evident in the department’s handling of inquiries related to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ Operation Fast and Furious and the death of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry in December 2010. And inconsistent statements from department officials about who knew what and when have only raised more concerns.

10.32am: Perhaps forlornly, Eric Holder says investigators should avoid soring political pints. That ship has sailed, I’m afraid.

Holder also attempts to address the death of US law enforcement officer Brian Terry – who may have been killed by a gun smuggled as part of the Fast and Furious operation:

Nearly one year ago, working to protect his fellow citizens, US Customs and Border Protection agent Brian Terry was violently murdered in Arizona. We all should feel outrage about his death, and – as I have communicated directly to Agent Terry’s family – we are dedicated to pursuing justice on his behalf.

The Department is also working to answer questions that the Terry family has raised, including whether and how firearms connected to Fast and Furious could end up with Mexican drug cartels.

10.29am: More from Holder – who warns that the guns lost during Fast and Furious will be found for “years to come”:

Although the Department has taken steps to ensure that such tactics are never used again, it is an unfortunate reality that we will continue to feel the effects of this flawed operation for years to come. Guns lost during this operation will continue to show up at crime scenes on both sides of the border.

In other words, Fast and Furious will be a running sore for the administration.

Holder attempts to put the figures into the context of the huge flow of arms from the US to Mexico:

As we work to identify where errors occurred and to ensure that these mistakes never happen again, we must not lose sight of the critical challenge this flawed operation has highlighted: the battle to stop the flow of guns to Mexico. Of the nearly 94,000 guns that have been recovered and traced in Mexico in the last five years, more than 64,000 were sourced to the United States. In the last five years, the trafficking of firearms across our Southwest Border has contributed to approximately 40,000 deaths.

10.20am: Eric Holder is now before the committee – you can follow it live via C-Span 3 – and in his opening remarks describes the failure of Fast and Furious as “inexcusable”.

Holder told the committee that “addressing the unacceptable rate of illegal firearms trafficking from the United States to Mexico” led to the disasterous policy:

Unfortunately, in the pursuit of that laudable goal unacceptable tactics were adopted as a part of Operation Fast and Furious. As I have repeatedly stated, allowing guns to walk – whether in this Administration or in the prior one – is wholly unacceptable. The use of this misguided tactic is inexcusable. And it must never happen again.

Police on the streets of Monterrey, Mexico. Photograph: Tomas Bravo/Reuters

10.11am: By way of background on the influence of US-sourced guns in Mexico’s drug war, the Guardian’s Chris McGreal has just visited Texas and published this investigation:

It’s a war sustained by a merry-go-round. The cartels use the money paid by Americans for drugs to buy weapons at US guns stores, which are then shipped across the frontier, often using the same vehicles and routes used to smuggle more narcotics north. The weapons are used by the cartels to protect narcotics production in their battle with the Mexican police and army, and smuggle drugs north.

Good morning: US Attorney General Eric Holder appears before the House Judiciary Committee to answer questions over the government’s failed operation known as Fast and Furious, a gunning-running sting that led to weapons being passed in the hands of Mexico’s drug cartels.

It’s a complex subject but Republicans in the House of Representatives have been investigating the Justice Department and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and how the Mexican cartels ended up with hundreds of firearms as a result.

Here’s the background:

Two years ago, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives launched a “gun walking” operation that permitted several gun shops in Arizona to sell a total of more than 2,000 semi-automatic weapons destined for drug cartels with the intention of tracking the guns and busting the smuggling operations.

But the agents carrying out Operation Fast and Furious lost track of about 1,400 of the guns – some of which were later identified as being used in killings in Mexico and other attacks, including an incident in which a Mexican military helicopter was shot down. Two of the weapons were also recovered after a gun battle in Arizona last year in which a US border patrol agent, Brian Terry, was killed.

Now Holder appears before the House Judiciary Committee to be grilled once more on who knew what and when.

Elsewhere, the Republican presidential hopefuls are out and about, with more polling evidence of Newt Gingrich surging in the polls – and the Mitt Romney campaign organising a firm response this morning, rolling out some heavyweight surrogates to attack Gingrich’s record and shore up Romney’s base in New Hampshire, site of the first presidential primary on 10 January.

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Massachusetts to allow access to Romney paper records December 7, 2011

Massachusetts will allow some public access to hundreds of previously off-limits boxes of official records generated by Mitt Romney‘s office when he was governor from 2003 to 2007, a state official said on Tuesday.

Romney has asserted that a 1997 decision by the Massachusetts state supreme court means that while paper records of his administration are property of the state, they are exempt from public disclosure.

But the state had allowed access to some of the estimated 600 boxes of paper records from Romney’s governorship held by the state archives.

The surge in requests to review the records comes after reports that Romney spent nearly $100,000 in state funds to replace computers in his office at the end of his term as part of an unprecedented effort to keep his records secret.

The move during the final weeks of Romney’s administration was legal but unusual for a departing governor, Massachusetts officials say.

The effort to purge electronic records was made a few months before Romney launched an unsuccessful campaign for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008. He is again competing for the party’s nomination, this time to challenge Barack Obama for the presidency in 2012.

The requests to see the paper records and continuing questions about the public disclosure law prompted Massachusetts state officials last month to briefly impose a moratorium on access to the records.

But later they relented and allowed access to about 20% of records that previously had been opened for public inspection.

On Tuesday, Brian McNiff, a spokesman for Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin, the elected official in charge of the state archives, said that officials are still reviewing the law as it relates to Romney’s records, but have decided that they will now allow journalists and the public to request access to any boxes of records that had not previously been released.

However, nonpolitical archivists will review and redact the records before any are made public, McNiff said.

At a campaign appearance on Tuesday in Paradise Valley, Arizona, Romney said his office had sent the state archives “all that was required under the law.”

Republican and Democratic opponents of Romney say the scrubbing of e-mails and the claim that his paper records are not subject to public disclosure hinder efforts to assess his performance as a politician and elected official.

Five weeks before the first contests in Iowa, Romney has seen his position as frontrunner among Republican presidential candidates whittled away in the polls as rival Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House of Representatives, has gained ground.

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US politics live: Herman Cain denies endorsement rumours December 6, 2011

Good morning: Herman Cain may have crashed out of the Republican presidential nomination contest but now the battle begins for his followers, donors and supporters, orphaned by Cain’s decision to drop out.

Cain is said to be holding a press conference at 2pm today – supposedly to announce who he is endorsing – although Cain’s chaotic campaign appears once again to be in two minds about what is actually happening, including whether Cain will endorse anyone and whether the press conference will actually take place at all. So no change there.

In other political news, soi-disant Republican front-runner Newt Gingrich will make a visit to Donald Trump in New York City, as controversy swirls over Trump’s plan to hold a Republican candidates debate in Iowa on 27 December.

And with exactly a month to go until the Iowa caucuses, Gingrich launches his first television ad in the Hawkeye State as a new poll shows him leading, and Mitt Romney suffers a backlash from his “Mittless protection programme” campaign strategy.

10.11am: Now Fox News is quoting “reports” that there will be no Herman Cain endorsement today. Why does that not surprise me?

Donald Trump. Photograph: Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

10.26am: Earlier this morning serial self-publiscist Donald Trump got into a verbal tussle with MSNBC’s Chuck Todd that was – how can we put this? – not the highest point in either man’s career.

Part of the issue was Trump’s vanity Republican presidential debate supposedly scheduled for 27 December – although criticism from within the Republican base may mean it never actually happens, which would be a loss to the gaity of the nation.

So far Jon Huntsman and Ron Paul have said they will not appear. Huntsman – who appears to be enjoying a mini-revival – appeared on Fox News just now, and said à propos of Trump’s debate:

I’m not going to kiss his ring, I’m not going to kiss any other part of his anatomy.

That’s not image we need on a Monday morning, Jon Huntsman.

10.34am: Cruel, cynical journalists are pointing out that Newt Gingrich’s meeting with Donald Trump at Trump Tower is conventiently next door to Tiffany’s. Which could be handy:

In 2005 and 2006, the former House speaker turned presidential candidate carried as much as $500,000 in debt to the premier jewelry company, according to financial disclosures filed with the Clerk of the House of Representatives.

10.43am: Will the Trump debate happen? Karl Rove isn’t happy at the idea, and blasted the concept in a Fox News interview this morning, picked up by Mediaite:

It’s really odd. Here’s a guy [Trump] who is saying, I’m going to endorse one of you and that gives him leverage … more importantly, what the heck are Republicans candidates doing showing up to a debate with a guy who says, ‘I may run for president as an independent’? I think the Republican national chairman should step in and say, we strongly discourage every candidate from appearing….

And anyway, says Karl Rove, nobody will watch a political debate on 27 December.

11am: What is going on in Iowa? This is the most interesting news piece of the day – an excellent Roll Call piece explaining that the 2012 Iowa ground operations are a shadow of the frantic activity that marked 2008:

Presidential candidates have minimally organized their Iowa campaigns — if they’re organizing at all. One month before the Jan. 3 caucuses, Iowa veterans expect one of the most unpredictable, nontraditional caucuses in recent history.

“To be sitting here on Dec 1 with no campaign announcing a 99-county chair organization is mind-boggling,” said Tim Albrecht, a veteran of the caucuses and spokesman for Governor Terry Branstad, who has not endorsed a candidate. “That’s the first thing you check off on your organizational checklist. This is the clearest, most glaring indication of just how wide open the Iowa caucus is at this point.”

Not a single presidential candidate has opened more than one office in the Hawkeye State. Former Speaker Newt Gingrich, who polls show is a frontrunner in the race, just opened his first Iowa office, a headquarters based in Urbandale.

That is amazing. So here’s my prediction: Ron Paul will win the Iowa caucus on 3 January. You read it here first, or first-ish. The reason being: winning caucuses requires a huge administrative effort: lots of staff, lots of volunteers and lots of effort. From what I can tell, Ron Paul is the only one with all three in Iowa right now.

And also: hats off to Roll Call for doing some reporting on ground, rather than sucking their thumbs in their NYC or DC offices.

11.08am: Quote of the day from the Roll Call reporting on Iowa mentioned below. It comes from Chuck Laudner, said to be a Santorum supporter and “longtime Iowa operative”:

I would remind people that this is a caucus, not a primary. And the caucus is on January 3, after a three-day, federal, drunken holiday.

11.26am: So, Newt Gingrich to be the Republican nominee? Not according to those who know Newt well – such as Republicans who served in Congress under Gingrich’s leadership a million years ago in the 1990s.

Tom Coburn, now the Republican senator from Oklahoma, was first elected to Congress as part of the 1994 wave of “Contract With America” Republicans and served in the House under Speaker Gingrich. He’s unleashed this killer quote:

His life indicates he does not have a commitment to the character traits necessary to be a great president. I am not inclined to be a supporter of Newt Gingrich, having served under him for four years and experienced personally his leadership.


11.48am: The Daily Beast gets an interview with Ginger White, the former lady friend of Herman Cain. It’s a typically tasteful, restrained piece of Daily Beast reporting:

White said that over the years, her arrangement with Cain took an emotional toll. “One time we were having sex, and I was looking up at the ceiling, thinking about, ‘What am I going to buy at the grocery store tomorrow? What am I going to do with my kids tomorrow?’” she recalled.

12.03pm: Non-career politician (prior to 2001) Mitt Romney likes to boast of his success at Bain Capital as part of his resume as a private sector “job creator”. The Los Angeles Times takes a closer look at Romney’s record there:

Four of the 10 companies Bain acquired declared bankruptcy within a few years, shedding thousands of jobs. The prospectus shows that Bain investors profited in eight of the 10 deals, including three of the four that ended in bankruptcy.

Interesting sidenote, in light of the fact that Herman Cain’s CV highlight was as head of Godfather’s Pizza, is this:

The firm’s largest investment was its 1999 buyout of Domino’s Pizza, into which Bain put $188.8m, eventually reaping a fivefold return.

So after Cain was head of Godfather’s Pizza, Romney was de facto head of Domino’s Pizza? Basically the 2012 Republican nomination was a re-run of the late 1990s pizza wars.

12.21pm: No news on Herman Cain’s endorsement today. The New York Times’s Caucus blog talks to the lonely, orphaned supporters of Herman Cain in Iowa, now floating in political purgatory:

Jeff Jorgensen, the Republican chairman in Pottawattamie County, who endorsed Mr Cain, said the main priority was finding a viable candidate who can defeat Mitt Romney for the Republican nomination.

“We are definitely trying to stop the steamrolling Romney machine,” Mr Jorgensen said. “It’s not that we don’t like him – he’s a formidable candidate. But we don’t think he espouses the conservative values we’d like to see in our nominee.

12.42pm: Here’s that Donald Trump interview-cum-slagfest with dear old Chuck Todd on MSNBC today.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Donald Trump doesn’t take no for an answer. Or Yes. Or anything.

12.55pm: Roll the “breaking news” screen splash: President Obama – remember him? – is to make a statement at 1.30pm ET. We think it’s about a compromise deal with Republicans over the payroll tax. Or it could be to appoint Herman Cain as Secretary of State. Who knows? Actually we know and it’s the former.

1.25pm: While we are waiting on President Obama to do some actual presidenting, here’s Newt Gingrich’s new campaign ad now running in Iowa:

“Some people say the America we know and love is a thing of the past,” says cuddly Uncle Newt, adding: “I don’t believe that.” Who are these “some people” Newt?

Vanity Fair’s Juli Weiner notes: “the one-minute spot includes a dreamy, vaguely upbeat flute-driven song that sounds identical to the one that plays when Sam returns to the Shire at the end of The Lord of the Rings.”

Insert your own geeky Lord of the Rings reference here comparing Newt to Saruman or something:

Once he was as great as his fame made him. His knowledge was deep, his thought was subtle, and his hands marvelously skilled; and he had a power over the minds of others. The wise he could persuade, and the smaller folk he could daunt.

There’s also a Gladiator reference in there. Anyway, Newt’s wasting his time with LOTR’s references. Everyone knows Ron Paul has got that fanbase sewn up.

1.36pm: Slate’s David Weigel follows up on Senator Tom Coburn’s attack on Newt Gingrich by reading Coburn’s book about the 1994 Republican revolution, Breach of Trust. He finds a few gems of Newtophobia:

Before the government shutdown we thought Newt Gingrich was invincible,” writes Coburn. “After the shutdown, however, he was like a whipped dog who still barked, yet cowered, in Clinton’s presence.

Get that quote into an attack ad, pronto.

1.45pm: Meanwhile, here’s a rocking ad from the Ron Paul campaign, which appears to be aimed at the crucial 15-year-old male demographic:

As the Washington Post’s Aaron Blake notes: “The only thing missing from this Ron Paul ad as Denis Leary as narrator and more Ford trucks.” Indeed. Someone should sue.

2.01pm: So we had the two minute warning for Obama to appear … about 10 minutes ago.

2.08pm: Another two-minute warning for Obama to start speaking at the White House briefing room.

2.10pm: Obama appears, finally. CNN has lost the sound feed.

Obama says he wants to extend the payroll tax cut, to “provide security for middle class families” by adding around $1,000 for the average working family. His jobs package would extend and widen the payroll tax cut, taking the benefit to $1,500 a year – but Republicans won’t join him:

I know there are plenty of Republicans who have sworn never to raise taxes … How come the only time there’s a catch is when it comes to middle class families?

Obama says he is willing to work with Republicans for tax cuts “in a responsible way”. But in a surprise move, it appears the Republican proposals are “irresponsible”. Obama is also calling for extending unemployment insurance for long-term out of work

In what can only be pure coincidence, Obama’s delayed statement happened to coincide with the start of the Newt Gingrich-Donald Trump joint press conference. Fancy.

But even after Obama has finished, Fox News isn’t cutting over to Gingrich/Trump.

2.20pm: Sensible Republican operative Mike Murphy tweets his foreboding about the Donald Trump debate:

GOP candidates would be foolish to show up at Trump’s clown circus/debate. Walk away…

Obviously as a journalist I hope the Trump debate goes ahead. As a human being, not so much.

Herman Cain announcing the suspension of his presidential campaign. Photograph: John Adkisson/Reuters

2.42pm: So Herman Cain will be making no endorsement today, according to the man himself:

I am not endorsing anybody today or in the very immediate future. I can’t say I won’t endorse, but not in the immediate timeframe.

That’s from MSNBC, which listened into a conference call between Cain and his soon-to-be former staff members:

Cain’s plans for the next chapter of his career were quickly followed by an attempt to directly address accusations that he sought to promote his recently-published book while campaigning, or perhaps host a cable news television show in the future.

“That is not my motivation,” he said. “I did not choose to run for the president of the United States to advance my own self.

By the way, Cain sent out an appeal for donations from his supporters the day before “suspending” his campaign.

3.03pm: Currently trending on Twitter – #GOPMuppetHearings:

Mr Grover, who, exactly are the monsters at the end of this ‘book’ that you keep warning us about?

3.18pm: Exciting news for West Wing fans:

Exclusive: The upcoming HBO drama about cable news from The West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin finally has a name. TVNewser has learned that HBO is expected to call the series Newsroom.

Sorkin’s series follows fictional cable news anchor Will McCallister (Jeff Daniels) and his “News Night” staff at the fictional cable news channel UBS.

Not sure that the Swiss investment bank UBS will be delighted. Or the BBC’s Newsnight, for that mater. But otherwise: high pressure TV environment … hmm, shades of Studio 60 anyone?

Newt Gingrich hearts Donald Trump. Photograph: Paul Sancya/AP

3.28pm: So Newt Gingrich met Donald Trump today, with Newt making industrial-grade sucking noises to attract Trump’s endorsement, as if that’s of any value.

The two held a press conference – well, they talked into some TV cameras – afterwards, according to AP, where Gingrich defended his decision to take part in Trump’s vanity-debate later this month:

This is a country that elected a peanut farmer to the presidency. This is a country that elected an actor who made two movies with a chimpanzee to the presidency. Donald Trump is a great showman; he’s also a great businessman. I think one of the differences between my party and the other party is we actually go to people who know how to create jobs. We need to be open to new ways of doing things.

For his part Trump defended Gingrich’s recent remarks that poor children should be working part-time cleaning toilets in schools:

I thought it was a great idea. We’re going to be picking 10 young wonderful children and make them ‘apprenti’. We’re going to have a little fun with it.

See, Newt Gingrich? You meet with Donald Trump and all he does is launch a new reality TV show.

3.38pm: Politics in Vermont is always slightly different to the rest of America:

The state of Vermont threw its support Monday behind a folk artist whose T-shirt business is being threatened by the nation’s second largest chicken restaurant chain because of his use of the phrase “eat more kale.”

Governor Peter Shumlin said that state would do all it could to help Bo Muller-Moore raise money to defend his small business, and by extension all Vermont small businesses and local agriculture, against what they both see as “corporate bullying” by the Atlanta-based Chick-fil-A.

4.03pm: AP reports that the White House is backing its ambassador to Belgium, accused by some – including Mitt Romney – of downplaying anti-semitism in a recent speech. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said today that Howard Gutman would remain in his post in Brussels.

Here’s the transcript of Gutman’s remarks:

What I do see as growing, as gaining much more attention in the newspapers and among politicians and communities, is a different phenomena. … It is the problem within Europe of tension, hatred and sometimes even violence between some members of Muslim communities or Arab immigrant groups and Jews. It is a tension and perhaps hatred largely born of and reflecting the tension between Israel, the Palestinian Territories and neighboring Arab states in the Middle East over the continuing Israeli-Palestinian problem.

It too is a serious problem. It too must be discussed and solutions explored. No Jewish student – and no Muslim student or student of any heritage or religion – should ever feel intimidated on a University campus for their heritage or religion leading to academic leaders quitting in protest. No high school or grammar school Jewish student – and no Muslim high school or grammar school student or student of any heritage or religion – should be beaten up over their heritage or religion.

4.13pm: The National Review also thunders against the Trump debate idea, calling it a “sideshow”:

We had hoped that after the brief and frivolous publicity stunt Trump branded as exploration of a presidential run, there would be no further occasion to rehearse the many ways in which his sometime association with the Republican party hurts the conservative cause. So we’ll keep it brief: Trump is a tax-hike-supporting, missile-defense-opposing, universal-health-care-advocating, eminent-domain abusing, Schumer-Weiner-Rangel-Reid-donating, long-time-pro-choice economic protectionist who in 2008 called George W. Bush “evil” and lauded president-elect Barack Obama as a potentially “great president” who would “lead by consensus.

4.20pm: Oh dear. It appears that former vice president Dan Quayle is endorsing Mitt Romney. Yes, that’ll do it.

Republican officials on Monday told The Associated Press that Quayle plans to announce his support for the former Massachusetts governor Tuesday afternoon.

Romney has an event scheduled Tuesday in Paradise Valley, Arizona, where Quayle has a home.

4.35pm: The National Journal breaks down the latest Gallup poll of the Republican candidates and concludes that only Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich pass the voters’ acceptability threshold, in effect making this a two-horse race from now on:

Romney and Gingrich are the only two candidates that Republican primary voters believe would be acceptable presidential nominees. Gingrich holds a narrow, but significant advantage over Romney on this front, with 61% viewing him as acceptable, with 54% viewing Romney acceptably.

Polling figures can change, as we have seen so far.

5pm: Time to wrap things for the evening – which means Herman Cain will probably endorse Donald Trump for president at 5.01pm ET. In which case, we’ll have to cover it tomorrow when Cain retracts the endorsement and instead backs Hillary Clinton.

And as for Donald Trump: an online Fox News poll found that 31% said a Trump endorsement would make them less likely to vote for that candidate.

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Mitt Romney’s staff spent nearly $100,000 to hide records

Mitt Romney spent nearly $100,000 in state funds to replace computers in his office at the end of his term as governor of Massachusetts in 2007 as part of an unprecedented effort to keep his records secret, Reuters has learned.

The move during the final weeks of Romney’s administration was legal but unusual for a departing governor, according to Massachusetts officials.

The effort to purge the records was made a few months before Romney launched an unsuccessful campaign for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008. He is again competing for the party’s nomination, this time to challenge Barack Obama for the presidency in 2012.

Five weeks before the first contests in Iowa, Romney has seen his position as frontrunner among Republican presidential candidates whittled away in the polls as rival Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House of Representatives, has gained ground.

When Romney left the governorship of Massachusetts, 11 of his aides bought the hard drives of their state-issued computers to keep for themselves. Also before he left office, the governor’s staff had emails and other electronic communications by Romney’s administration wiped from state servers, state officials say.

Those actions erased much of the internal documentation of Romney’s four-year tenure as governor, which ended in January 2007. Precisely what information was erased is unclear.

Republican and Democratic opponents of Romney say the scrubbing of emails – and a claim by Romney that paper records of his governorship are not subject to public disclosure – hinder efforts to assess his performance as a politician and elected official.

As Massachusetts governor Romney worked with a Democrat-led state house to close a budget shortfall and signed a healthcare overhaul that required nearly all state residents to buy insurance or face penalties.

The Massachusetts healthcare law became a model for Barack Obama’s nationwide healthcare programme, enacted into law in 2010. As a presidential candidate, however, Romney has criticised Obama’s plan as an overreach by the federal government.

Massachusetts officials say they have no basis to believe Romney’s staff violated any state laws or policies in removing his administration’s records.

They acknowledge, however, that state law on maintaining and disclosing official records is vague and has not been updated to deal with issues related to digital records and other modern technology.

Romney’s spokesmen emphasise that he followed the law and precedent in deleting the emails, installing new computers in the governor’s office and buying up hard drives.

However, Theresa Dolan, former director of administration for the governor’s office, told Reuters that Romney’s efforts to control or wipe out records from his governorship were unprecedented.

Dolan said that in her 23 years as an aide to successive governors “no one had ever inquired about or expressed the desire” to purchase their computer hard drives before Romney’s tenure.

The cleanup of records by Romney’s staff before his term ended included spending $205,000 for a three-year lease on new computers for the governor’s office, according to official documents and state officials.

In signing the lease Romney aides broke an earlier three-year lease that provided the same number of computers for about half the cost: $108,000.

Lease documents obtained by Reuters under the state’s freedom of information law indicate that the broken lease still had 18 months to run.

As a result of the change in leases the cost to the state for computers in the governor’s office was an additional $97,000.

Andrea Saul, a spokeswoman for Romney’s presidential campaign, referred questions on the computer leasing deal and records removal to state officials.

Last week Saul claimed that Deval Patrick, the present Massachusetts governor and a Democrat, was encouraging reports about Romney’s records to cast the former governor as secretive. Patrick’s office has not responded to that allegation.

The removal of digital records by Romney’s staff, first reported by the Boston Globe, has sparked a wave of requests for state officials to release paper records from Romney’s governorship that remain in the state archives.

Massachusetts officials are reviewing state law to determine whether the public should have access to those records.

The issue is clouded by a 1997 state court ruling that could be interpreted to mean that records of the Massachusetts governor are not subject to disclosure. Romney has asserted that his records are exempt from disclosure.

State officials and a longtime Romney adviser have acknowledged that before leaving office Romney asked state archives officials for permission to destroy certain paper records. It is unclear whether his office notified anyone from the state before destroying electronic records.

Officials have said the details of Romney’s request to remove paper records, such as what specific documents he wanted to destroy, could be made public only in response to a request under the state’s freedom of information law. Reuters has filed such a request.

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Herman Cain ends bid for Republican presidential nomination December 5, 2011

Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain announces the suspension of his 2012 bid for the White House, saying ‘false and unproved’ sexual accusations have made it impossible for him to carry on. Cain’s departure leaves the race a contest between former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and surging rival Newt Gingrich

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Herman Cain suspends campaign for Republican presidential nomination December 4, 2011

Beleaguered Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain, whose effort to win the White House was rocked by claims of infidelity and sexual harrassment, suspended his campaign on Saturday.

Cain, a black former pizza magnate turned hero of the Tea Party right, told a crowd of supporters in his home base of Atlanta, Georgia, that he had made the decision because of the hurt caused to his family and message by allegations he insisted were false.

“As of today, with a lot of prayer and soul searching I am suspending my presidential campaign,” Cain told the crowd, who had spent several hours gathered outside a building that was to have opened Saturday as Cain’s national campaign headquarters.

Though Cain’s popularity was already collapsing, the end of this campaign will likely be a blow to Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney, as Cain’s remaining supporters are likely to go to another conservative candidate, such as former congressman Newt Gingrich, and not Romney who has a history of taking more liberal positions he has since disavowed.

Cain strenuously denied allegations of sexual misbehaviour that have been made against him and feverishly reported in the press but said they had deeply hurt his family. “It hurts my wife, it hurts my family, it hurts me and it hurts the American people because you have been denied solutions to our problems,” he said.

Cain made the decision after a meeting last night with his wife Gloria; the first time the candidate had met his spouse of 43 years in person since the infidelity allegations had emerged. Gloria Cain joined her husband on the stage as Cain made his announcement, smiling and waving at supporters who chanted her name. Cain repeatedly denied that there was any truth to repeated claims of sexual harassment when he was head of the National Restaurant Association and that he had also conducted a 13-year affair with an Atlanta woman. “I am at peace with my God. I am at peace with my wife and she is at peace with me,” he said.

The astonishing scene – not least because Cain effectively ended his presidential bid at a ceremony intended to open a huge new headquarters for it – likely puts a permanent full stop to one of the most unusual campaigns of recent years in America politics. His critics have slammed his bid as little more than a book tour masquerading as a run for the presidency. Cain has certainly spent less time developing the “ground operation” in key early states than some other candidates. But what was not in doubt was the excitement that Cain brought to conservative elements of the Republican base desperate to avoid the nomination of frontrunner Mitt Romney. Cain’s radical 9-9-9 tax plan became a national talking point and forced some other candidates to consider flat tax schemes themselves. He also wooed audiences with engaging debate performances, his natural charisma and a gift for comic timing. Cain paid an emotional tribute to his supporters in his Atlanta speech. “Cain supporters are not warm weather supporters and I can’t thank all of you enough for what you’ve done,” he said. He also gave a typically barnstorming slam of Washington’s political culture, which played into his image as a genuine outsider.

That sort of speech showed why he was able to tap into a deep well of Republican anger at government and surge unexpectedly in the polls throughout October. The flow of support saw Cain become a frontrunner in several key states and national polls, triggering a wave of scrutiny and intense focus from the media.

Cain and his campaign appeared deeply unprepared for their moment in the spotlight. First Cain himself made a series of embarrassing gaffes, including a complete mishandling of a question about Libya in which he appeared to struggle with recognising the North African country. But the most serious problems were accusations that arose from Cain’s time as the head of the NRA. Several women came forward in a devastating series of revelations to accuse Cain of acting inappropriately towards them. It culminated last week with the appearance of Ginger White, an Atlanta businesswoman who alleged that she had a long sexual affair with Cain. The candidate denied that, though admitted that he knows White and had helped her financially.

Whatever the veracity of the many allegations now flung at Cain, what is certainly true is that they damaged his chances of ever winning the nomination. Cain’s plummet from frontrunner to also-ran was as dramatic as his rise. A swath of professional political pundits slammed the amateurishness of his operation and top conservatives abandoned him for other candidates. His support in Iowa collapsed from 23 percent towards the end of October to just eight percent in one recent survey. During his fiery Atlanta speech Cain finished by saying he would still influence politics in the US by endorsing one of his former rivals and also by the creation of a new online organisation, called Cain Solutions, to promote his beliefs. He also admitted that he had made unspecified mistakes in his conduct. “I have made many mistakes in life. Everybody has. I have made mistakes professionally, personally, as a candidate … and I take responsibility for the mistakes that I have made,” he said.

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Herman Cain suspends GOP presidential campaign December 3, 2011

Herman Cain has said he is suspending his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination in order to avoid news coverage that is hurtful to his family.

Cain’s announcement came five days after a woman claimed she and Cain had an affair for more than a decade, a claim that followed several allegations of sexual harassment against the Georgia businessman. Cain, whose wife, Gloria, stood behind him on the stage, made the announcement to several hundred supporters gathered at what was to have been the opening of his national campaign headquarters.

Cain had performed well in polls until news surfaced in late October that he had been accused of sexual harassment by two women during his time as president of the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s.

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Herman Cain on the campaign trail – in pictures

A look back at the rapid rise and fall of the once strong contender for the Republican presidential nomination

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Republicans debate foreign policy November 13, 2011

There were no clear winners in the Republican foreign policy debate

The eight contenders for the US Republican presidential nomination have debated foreign policy in the state of South Carolina.

They said they would stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, but differed over how to do it.

Mitt Romney, the front-runner so far in the Republican race, vowed to stop Iran by a pre-emptive military strike if needed.

Herman Cain said the only way to stop Iran was through economic means.

The businessman, whose campaign has been dogged by sexual harassment allegations recently, spoke about squeezing Tehran through sanctions and boosting Iran’s opposition movement.

Mitt Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, said: “One thing you can know is if we elect Barack Obama, Iran will have a nuclear weapon. If you elect me as the next president, they will not have a nuclear weapon.”

Newt Gingrich, a former speaker of the House of Representatives, came to Spartanburg, South Carolina, riding a new wave of support as the conservative alternative to the more moderate Mr Romney.

He declared he would launch covert operations within Iran.

Mr Gingrich said: “There are a number of ways to be smart about Iran, and a few ways to be stupid. The (Obama) administration skipped all the ways to be smart.”

Ron Paul, a congressman from Texas, wanted no part in a military strike. “It’s not worthwhile to go to war,” he said.

The candidates made no major stumbles during the 90-minute debate, but Texas Governor Rick Perry’s belief that the United States should consider eliminating foreign aid to Pakistan stirred debate among the candidates.


Mr Perry, hurt by a string of poor debate performances, including an embarrassing gaffe on Wednesday that some observers say might have crippled his campaign, was insistent that Washington should consider cutting aid.

While Mr Gingrich agreed, former Senator Rick Santorum was adamantly opposed.

“Pakistan is a nuclear power,” Mr Santorum said. “We cannot be indecisive about whether Pakistan is our friend. They must be a friend.”

The Republican presidential hopefuls also disagreed about the correct course in Afghanistan and the use of waterboarding as a means of interrogation.

On waterboarding, Herman Cain and Michelle Bachmann, said they would reinstate the technique designed to simulate drowning.

On Afghanistan, former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman and Ron Paul both said it was time for US troops to come home after an engagement lasting 10 years.

By contrast, Mitt Romney and Rick Perry said military commanders on the ground should take the lead about when to withdraw troops. They criticised President Obama for “telegraphing” the nation’s intentions.

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Herman Cain addresses accusations: as it happened November 9, 2011

Herman Cain has bowed to the inevitable and will today address the mounting accusations of sexual misconduct aimed against him – most recently the graphic charges of sexual assault made by Sharon Bialek – as the controversy threatens to engulf his campaign for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.

Cain holds two events today: an interview with ABC/Yahoo News at 2.30pm ET and then a press conference in Phoenix, Arizona, from 5pm ET.

Based on Cain’s media appearances following Bialek’s decision to make her accusations in public, the former Godfather’s Pizza chief executive is likely to deny the charges as “totally fabricated” – but how that line will stand up under questioning is anybody’s guess.

Follow all the action here live – and the cascade of controversy that precedes it. And you can bring yourself up to date with Monday’s live blog of Bialek’s dramatic appearance.

Feel free to leave your thoughts and comments below – and follow me on Twitter at @RichardA

1.35pm: Shortly after Bialek’s press conference on Monday, Herman Cain appeared – rather incongruously – on comedian Jimmy Kimmel’s late-night chatshow.

You can watch Cain’s appearance in the video above – it was pretty lightweight stuff by Kimmel, who handled the whole issue with the softest of kid gloves. Letterman or Leno would surely have given Cain a tougher ride.

The only newsworthy comment of note, aside from Cain’s overwhelming chutzpah, is when Cain described the allegations as “totally fabricated”.

As the Los Angeles Times observed:

Cain seemed entirely unfazed by the scandal; if anything, he seemed happy about it, boasting that ‘the day of the firestorm, we had the highest fundraising day online in the history of this campaign’.

1.45pm: Sharon Bialek, meanwhile, appeared on ABC News’s Good Morning America breakfast show – there’s video here – and rejected claims from the Cain campaign and its supporters that she was somehow gold-digging:

I was not paid to come forward, nor was I promised any employment. Nothing at all. I’m just doing this because it’s the right thing to do.

1.55pm: Is there a fifth woman? Not quite – but the Washington Examiner, a conservative publication, reports that Cain was on the lookout for dinner dates while on a taxpayer-funded trip to Cairo:

Donna Donella, 40, of Arlington, said the USAID paid Cain to deliver a speech to businessmen and women in Egypt in 2002, during which an Egyptian businesswoman in her 30s asked Cain a question.

“And after the seminar was over,” Donella told The Washington Examiner, “Cain came over to me and a colleague and said, ‘Could you put me in touch with that lovely young lady who asked the question, so I can give her a more thorough answer over dinner?’

And when Donella refused to, ah, set up the date, Cain replied as quick as a flash: “Then you and I can have dinner.”

Oh and he ordered two $400 bottles of wine and stuck the government with the bill. Nice work Herman.

2.05pm: Why has Cain decided to finally address the allegations today, after a week of dodging the question? One reason is that with Sharon Bialek, the accusations against him now have a public face. But the other is that even supportive voices are starting to sound warnings.

Here’s Charles Krauthammer, as red-meat a Republican as they come, talking about Cain’s position on Fox News, via the Daily Caller:

It’s not sexual harassment — she wasn’t an employee at the time,” Krauthammer said on Special Report [on] Monday evening. “If true, it’s kind of sexual assault, which is an order of magnitude worse.”

“Now, to be lawyerly about it, corroboration is not quite as weak as presented,” he cautioned. “There are affidavits of people who said she spoke to them at the time. But she said she was ‘too embarrassed’ to give details. So she probably spoke of inappropriate behavior, which could have been anything.”

Krauthammer said there was no way to determine who was being truthful, but added that it would be difficult for Cain’s campaign to survive the allegations.

Sharon Bialek and lawyer Gloria Allred speak to the media on Monday

2.20pm: Here’s the full statement issued by the Cain campaign late last night – including a classy smear on Sharon Bialek as “a woman with a long history of severe financial difficulties”:

In response to the allegations made today by Gloria Allred, Mr Cain will conduct a press conference on Tuesday, November 8th at the Scottsdale Plaza in Phoenix, Arizona at 3pm local time.

It is noteworthy that Gloria Allred is a celebrity lawyer who specializes in generating publicity for herself and her clients.

Ms Allred is a high-profile Democrat Party donor and activist who has given over ten thousand dollars to liberal Democrats like Barack Obama, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer.

The questions the media should be asking are who’s paying for Gloria Allred’s fee, how did Ms Bialek get introduced to Ms Allred, and was she paid to come forward with these false accusations or was she promised employment?

After attacking Herman Cain through anonymous accusers for a week, his opponents have now convinced a woman with a long history of severe financial difficulties, including personal bankruptcy, to falsely accuse the Republican frontrunner of events occurring over a decade ago for which there is no record, nor even a complaint filed.

2.30pm: Here we go: ABC News’s Jonathan Karl is interviewing Cain via live stream here.

Well, he will be soon.

2.39pm: No Cain yet. In the meantime: Glenn Beck – yes, remember him? He’s on the internet now – interviewed someone who saw Bialeck encounter Cain a month ago at a Tea Party rally event.

Oh here we go.

2.41pm: The ABC interview with Cain is now live.

Karl is asking Cain about Sharon Bialek. Cain replies:

First of all, sexual harassment is a very serious charge. Throughout my career I have utmost respect for any or all women.

I can categorically say I have never acted inappropriately with anyone, period.

That’s pretty clear then. Cain goes on to say:

As far as these latest charges, I don’t even remember – I reject all of those charges. How can I defend charges when I don’t remember this person by name?

And then there’s this classic: “I don’t even know who this lady is.”

2.47pm: Cain’s giving nothing away here, not an inch:

I’m not going to let these accusations, which are baseless, bogus and false … derail me from my quest for the White House.

He repeats his claim: “In this particular case I don’t even know who this lady is.”

ABC’s Karl asks: “You’re saying she is lying about this?” Cain replies: “Yes, there’s no nice way of saying that … I first would have to recognise who she is. I reject all accusations. I don’t remember that and also I don’t recollect knowing her.”

This in Washington is known as the Reagan defence: “I don’t recall.” Or as Cain puts it here: “I am honestly telling you, I can’t even remember her back then.”

2.50pm: Asked about how his wife is dealing with the accusations, Cain says: “Today she is 200% supportive of me,” as well as being angry at the smears.

According to Cain, his wife’s response to the press conference yesterday was to say: “I’ve known you for over 40 years, that stuff doesn’t even sound like you.”

Cain says his wife – Gloria – will be doing some public appearances but her non-appearance so far is a sign of Cain’s unconventional campaign.

2.54pm: Here’s a first for US politics – Cain plays the “I’m a businessman” card in his defence: “I believe there’s an element in this country that does not want to see a businessman succeed.”

Yes, that’s it. Sharon Bialek is merely an agent for shadowy anti-businessman-presidential-candidate forces.

2.56pm: And now we move on – and Cain says he supports a constitutional amendment to strip the right of US citizenship from children born to illegal immigrants.

On foreign policy, asked about Iran having nuclear weapons and how he would respond, Cain says he’d go for … energy independence. But what if it’s your first day in office, asks Karl? I’m not going to wait until my first day in office, responds Cain.

That’s so incoherent that it justifies the line: not even wrong.

Cain then refuses to answer any further on the grounds that it’s a hypothetical question. Duh.

3pm: And softball question time: Who would play Herman Cain in a movie? “He hasn’t been discovered yet.”

Another triumph for journalism there.

And that’s it, 15 minutes of fun.

3.07pm: In summary: Herman Cain says he has never done anything to anybody and he doesn’t remember anyone anyway.

The always-clever Jon Ralston – the man they call the Jon Ralston of Nevada politics – tweets:

I hope polling firms are now adjusting their surveys to include: How badly do you not want a businessman in the White House?

3.21pm: Ha. Beth Reinhard of the National Journal has just tweeted:

Talking to voters in SC, woman says she won’t vote for Romney ‘because he’s a Muslim.’

It can’t be true because if it was, Romney would be a lot more interesting.

3.23pm: A sign that the wheels might be coming off for Herman Cain: even his Republican presidential rivals – who have remained largely silent so far – have started weighing in.

Mitt Romney told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos earlier today:

These are serious allegations, George. And they’re going to have to be addressed seriously. I don’t have any counsel for Herman Cain or for his campaign, they have to take their own counsel on this.

That can mean one thing: Romney’s campaign have polled and focused grouped this and found that there’s a guy in Iowa who might switch his vote from Cain.

3.32pm: This doesn’t bode well for Herman Cain’s press conference tonight, if all he is going to say is “I have never harassed anybody … I don’t remmber this woman.”

4.02pm: And now Newt Gingrich – Mr I-Blame-The-Media – has leaped on the bandwagon, or rather, has leaped on Herman Cain, and said he needs to actually answer some questions:

Clearly Herman Cain has to answer the charges. He has to explain what happened. He has to do so in a way that’s convincing and I think that that’s unavoidable. I think he both owes her that but he also owes the American people that and I hope he can do it well. He’s a good friend, and I hope he has an answer that satisfies people. He has to have an answer and it better be accurate because if it’s not accurate it won’t stand.

4.20pm: The always-excellent Los Angeles Times watched Cain’s “I know nothing, I am not here, I did not even get up this morning!” ABC interview:

Cain said, as he did in an interview with ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Monday night, that his wife did not believe Bialek’s claims. Asked if his wife would take those views public and take part in interviews, Cain said she would largely stay out of the media spotlight.

“I’m going to keep her out of all this. She is going to do some public interviews when it’s the right time and when she’s ready,” he said. “She knows I can speak up for myself.

4.30pm: The identity of one of Cain’s earlier accusers has been revealed today by The Daily. She is Karen Kraushaar, a 55-year-old former journalist who works for the US Treasury.

(Hands up if your first reaction was: The Daily? Yes, the Rupert Murdoch-owned iNewspaper. It’s still going.)

4.39pm: Herman Cain denies ever having done anything – but his campaign after taking no chances, and are now going after Sharon Bialek as if she was running against him for the Republican nomination.

The campaign has just sent around an email entitled “Who is Sharon Bialek?”:

As Ms Sharon Bialek has placed herself in the public spotlight through making patently false allegations against Herman Cain, it is only fair to compare her track record alongside Mr Cain’s.

In stark contrast to Mr. Cain’s four decades spent climbing the corporate ladder rising to the level of CEO at multiple successful business enterprises, Ms Bialek has taken a far different path.

The fact is that Ms Bialek has had a long and troubled history, from the courts to personal finances — which may help explain why she has come forward 14 years after an alleged incident with Mr Cain, powered by celebrity attorney and long-term Democrat donor Gloria Allred.

The gist of all this: Herman Cain is rich and successful so he must be telling the truth.

There’s more, but really, the Cain campaign knows an awful lot about someone that Herman Cain says he can’t remember.

4.45pm: If Cain wasn’t already done, he really is now. CNN contributor Maria Cardona is on air now, saying that she once employed one of Cain’s accusers, Karen Kraushaar, and says that she is a is person of the utmost integrity.

Kraushaar previously worked for Cain at the National restaurant Association, and was one of the first two accusers to surface when Politco broke the story.

Cardona hired her directly after she left the NRA, having taken a settlement after her harassment (alleged) at the hands of Cain: “She says I saved her from that monster,” is how Cardona puts it.

Asked by Wolf Blitzer for details of what Cain is supposed to have done to Kraushaar, Cardona only says it was similar to Sharon Bialek’s ordeal.

On the bright side: now Cain and Berlusconi can hang out.

4.59pm: My colleague Ewen Macaskill suggests questions that Cain needs to answer today:

• If Cain cannot remember the alleged incident with Sharon Bialek, could he check his personal diary or, if he does not have one, his office diary while chief executive of the National Restaurant Association?

• Would he give permission for the Capitol Hilton to check back its bookings to confirm or deny whether he had arranged for Bialek to be given a upgrade to suite?

• What about the Italian restaurant? A long shot but does the restaurant have a record going back of that far of its bookings?

Chances of these questions being asked, or answered? Between zero to nil.

5.02pm: The New York Times has an interview with Karen Kraushaar on its website:

Ms Kraushaar, a spokeswoman at the Treasury Department, said in an interview that she was upset that her name had leaked into some press reports. But she said that she had decided to speak out now that her identity was publicly known.

“When you are being sexually harassed in the workplace, you are extremely vulnerable,” she said. “You do whatever you can to quickly get yourself into a job some place safe, and that is what I thought I had achieved when I left.”

Kraushaar also says she is considering “the idea of a joint press conference where all of the women would be together with our attorneys and all of this evidence would be considered together.”

Taxi for Mr Cain.

5.05pm: Cain is now on stage and being introduced by some guy named Lin Wood who says he’s a lawyer specialising in sexual harassment. He says something about settlements not being for “nuisance” sums.

A brief Google search tells us that Lin Wood is a libel lawyer and has represented the family of JonBenet Ramsey, former congressman Gary Condit and falsely-accused “Atlanta bomber” Richard Jewell in lawsuits against the media.

Stay classy Herman Cain.

5.10pm: Cain is now speaking, and saying he is taking “I chose to address these allegations directly [and] take my message directly to the people”. After waiting nine days, it should be said.

Again, Cain repeats his claim that he didn’t recognise either Sharon Bialek or her name watching yesterday’s press conference:

I tried to remember if I recognised her, and I didn’t…. The charges and the accusations I absolutely reject. They simply did not happen. They simply didn’t happen.

This is called “doubling down” in the trade.

Herman Cain at the press conference at Phoenix, Arizona. Photograph: Eric Thayer/Getty Images

5.14pm: And after that Cain is now into his campaign stump speech, about how he is running for America as a businessman. Uh huh.

As for dropping out the presidential race: “It ain’t going to happen.”

“Has it been tough the last couple of days? Yes. But that’s the thing about Herman Cain,” says Herman Cain, refering to Herman Cain in the Herman Cain person, otherwise known as the third person. Except that Herman Cain doesn’t come third to anyone – not even Herman Cain.

And there’s more … well, more words anyway:

The fact is, these anonymous allegations are false, and now the Democrat machine in America has brought forth a troubled woman to make false accusations, statements, many of which exceed common sense, and they certainly exceed the standards of decency in America.

5.18pm: Herman Cain is upset that these allegations reflect badly on Herman Cain’s character:

These accusations that are revealed yesterday simply did not happen. We will take a few questions.

Now some dumb questions from a guy at CBS. Will Cain take a lie detector test? Duh. But Cain bites:

I absolutely would. But I’m not going to do that unless I have a good reason to do that. Of course I would be willing to do a lie detector test.

So being accused by multiple women isn’t a “good reason”? Anyway, somehow I suspect Cain would come thorugh any lie detector test with flying colours, such is his self-belief.

Now Reuters: a new poll shows that people are regarding you less favourably as a result of Bialek’s accusations. “Now first of all you don’t need 100% of the voters you only need 51%,” says Cain.

But it’s OK, says Cain, because his supporters believe him.

The LA Times has a go: “Do you believe sexual harassment is real, have you ever seen it?”

Really, American journalists, can you not ask him a straight question about the accusations? Did he know these women? Things like that.

Ha, now Cain says he’s seen women sexually harass men. Really.

5.24pm: Jon Karl – him again from ABC News – asks about Karen Kraushaar’s complaint. “I remember that complaint because it was found to be baseless,” says Cain. Found by who? Your own staff?

Now Cain is going into the weeds about the difference between a settlement or an agreement. “All of the legal implications were found to be baseless,” Cain repeats. Yes, yes.

The WSJ wants to know if all these women just made this sex stuff up. “Some people don’t want to see Herman Cain run for president,” says Herman Cain. “There will probably be others, not because I am aware of any, because the machine to keep a businessman out of the White House will continue to be relentless.”

“It’s to stop Herman Cain,” is Cain’s answer.

5.28pm: Fox News wants to know more about the “Democratic machine” that Cain is talking. “We do not have definitive factual proof,” says Cain.

“We can only infer that someone is trying to basically wreck my character,” says Cain. So inference is good enough for accusing Democrats of a grand conspiracy, but not for women accusing Herman Cain of sexual harassment or assault? Just so we are all clear about this.

5.30pm: Finally Cain is asked who found these “charges” to be baseless. Once again, Cain appears confused about what happened and which women were making what charges. So it’s impossible to say what he’s talking about or refering to.

“I spent most of my time travelling around the country … I was not in the office a lot,” says Cain. Well, thank goodness for that eh?

Will Cain remember more details later, since he keeps remembering stuff? “It’s a remote possibility. I’m not an expert in how the brain works,” concedes Cain. And humble too.

5.33pm: What did Karen Kraushaar actually accuse Cain of, asks the New York Times.

Cain can only recall “the one thing that I remember” is the “you’re the same height as my wife, because my wife comes up to my chin” bit that he has already banged on about.

Oh come on. “Other things that might be in the accusations, I don’t remember,” says Cain, pre-emptively clearing himself.

And she got, what, $45,000 settlement for that, hmm? One suspects there was rather more to it.

5.36pm: And that’s it. There’s a word that comes to mind. And that word is: pathetic.

5.39pm: Erick Erickson is on CNN, and wonders about Cain talking about himself in the third person and failing to bring his family forward to support his story.

“I think Herman wasn’t able to put this story to bed now,” says Erickson. Not sure that’s the best turn of phrase in the circumstances. But otherwise, yeah.

Alex Castellanos, another Republican, also on CNN: “I think Herman Cain’s troubles are just beginning…. If you hold a press conference to explain something like this, you have to explain it.”

5.49pm: The Washington Post has now also spoken – following the New York Times – to one of the former employees that has now gone public:

Karen Kraushaar, 55, an employee with the Treasury Department’s inspector general office, said she never wanted her name to be made public as one of Cain’s accusers. But a news organization published her name Tuesday and she now says she is ready to go before cameras.

“I am interested in a joint press conference for all the women where we would all be together with our attorneys and all of these allegations could be reviewed as a collective body of evidence,” Kraushaar told The Washington Post.

5.53pm: Wolf Blitzer: “James Carville, can he save his run for the White House?” James Carville: “No. I can expand on that if you want.”

6.06pm: Gloria Allred is on CNN, and pointing out that Cain’s “I don’t recall” is not exactly a complete denial.

Allred also snorts in derision at the thought that she is a “Democratic machine,” and says that the Cain campaign is trying to protect its candidate by “attacking a single mom”.

6.08pm: Now CNN’s John King is asking Mara Cardona – the former employer of Karen Kraushaar at the INS – about Cain’s claim that her accusations were “baseless”.

Cardona points out that Kraushaar is a registered Republican – which kind of sinks the “Democratic conspiracy” line from Cain.

6.16pm: Here’s a photograph of Herman Cain with the woman he couldn’t remember, taken just last month.

6.21pm: Not part of the “Democratic machine” persecuting Herman Cain is Craig Robinson, editor of the Iowa Republican blog, who lays into Cain with gusto:

Many of the conservatives who have rushed to Cain’s aid have blown off the allegations because the names of the three women have not been disclosed. They have done an admirable job in making people believe that these complaints have all come from anonymous sources. That is simply not true. The NRA, the news media, and even Herman Cain himself, know exactly who made these charges. For heavens sake, two of them were cut five figure checks in return for their silence and cooperation in making the matter go away.

6.30pm: Ana Marie Cox offers her first take on Herman Cain’s “I know nothing” press conference:

[T]he conference may prove damaging to Cain. Not because he seemed guilty or because he kind of backwardly admitted that more accusations could be coming (they’re false, too!), but because this conference was the first sustained look America has gotten at an unscripted Cain. And it turns out he’s kind of a prick!

6.37pm: Politico – which first broke this story a week ago last Sunday – picks up on a point Cain tried to make today:

Cain predicted yet more women will come forward to accuse him of sexually harassing them, though offered a pre-emptive warning that they will not be telling the truth.

“There will probably be others, not because I am aware of any, but because the machine to keep a businessman out of the White House is going to be relentless,” he said. “If they continue to come, I will continue to respond.”

6.43pm: Here’s a partial transcript of Herman Cain’s opening remarks:

I normally don’t have notes, but in this case, I wanted to make sure that I didn’t miss any points that I needed to cover today. Secondly, I chose to address these accusations directly, rather than try to do it through a series of continuous statements or spokespeople because that’s the person Herman Cain is, is to take my message directly to the people.

With respect to the most recent accusation, I have never acted inappropriately with anyone, period! I saw Ms Allred and her client yesterday in that news conference for the very first time. As I sat in my hotel room with a couple of my staff members, as they got to the microphone, my first response in my mind and reaction was, I don’t even know who this woman is. Secondly, I didn’t recognize the name at all.

The time that she referenced was during the time that I was the CEO and president of the National Restaurant Association. It’s headquartered in Washington DC, where about 150 workers work, and we have about 150 people in Chicago, where she said she worked for our educational foundation. I tried to remember if I recognized her, and I didn’t. I tried to remember if I remembered that name, and I didn’t.

The charges and the accusations I absolutely reject. They simply didn’t happen. They simply did not happen.

6.45pm: And here’s the transcript of the question from Marc Lacey, Phoenix bureau chief for the New York Times, sadly the only question that really tried to get at the heart of the matter:

Question: Karen Kraushaar, who just spoke to our newspaper within the last hour, can you tell us what she accused you of specifically and what your interactions with her were? You came close to answering that, but you stopped. This is your press conference where you’re going to level with us and tell us what happened. So tell us what she accused you of and tell us what really happened. This is your chance. Thank you.

Cain: Well, I can only recall one thing that I was aware of that was called sexual harassment.

The one thing that I remember – that I remembered during the day when all of this broke loose – is that one day, in my office at the National Restaurant Association, I was standing next to Miss Kraushaar, and I gestured, standing near her, like this, “You’re the same height as my wife,” because my wife comes up to my chin.

That was the one gesture that I remember. The door was open. My secretary was sitting there. It wasn’t anything behind closed doors. I gestured because of her height, comparing it to my wife’s height. End of story.

Other things that might have been in the accusations, I’m not even aware of, I don’t remember. That one, I remember, because that was the one that my general counsel came to me and said, the one that appears to be the one that she was most upset about was that. So I really can’t tell you anymore, because I don’t recall it anymore, and that’s the only one I remember.

She did not react at the time, absolutely did not react at the time.

As Ana Marie Cox asks, does anyone understand the point of the “same-height-as-my-wife” story? I can’t say I do, or why that should require a settlement in the tens of thousands of dollars. Unless, say, Cain was naked at the time or something.

7pm: Here is a summary of Herman Cain’s press conference in Phoenix, Arizona, responding to allegations of sexual misconduct.

• Herman Cain maintains that he is innocent of all charges of sexual misconduct, saying: “The charges and the accusations I absolutely reject. They simply didn’t happen.” Cain accused a conspiracy of trying to wreck his presidential campaign: “The Democrat machine in America has brought forth a troubled woman to make false accusations, statements, many of which exceed common sense.”

• Providing nothing in way of further rebutal to the mounting allegations, Cain repeated earlier denials and claimed to have little or no memory of the events that occured during his time as chief executive of the National Restaurant Association in the late 1990s.

• In response to the detailed public allegations amounting to sexual assault from Sharon Bialek, Cain denied any knowledge of having met Bialek: “I tried to remember if I recognized her, and I didn’t. I tried to remember if I remembered that name, and I didn’t.” In an earlier interview with ABC News, Cain said Bialek was lying, describing her accusations as “baseless” and “bogus”.

• Answering questions from journalists on the subject for the first time, Cain said he would be willing to take a lie detector test – and predicted that others may come forward with similar complaints: “There will probably be others, not because I am aware of any, but because the machine to keep a businessman out of the White House is going to be relentless.”

• Karen Kraushaar, one of the women who accepted a financial settlement while working at the restaurant association, broke her silence, giving interviews to the US media and suggesting a joint press conference between the four women who have accused Cain of sexual misconduct.

• Pressed to describe the details of Kraushaar’s allegations against him, that led to her receiving a settlement, Cain maintained he could only remember that they were found to be “baseless”.

• Prior to today’s press conference Cain’s rivals for the Republican nomination had begun calling on him to give an explanation of the complaints. Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney described the charges as “particularly disturbing”.

• Cain denied that the spate of allegations would force him to drop out of the Republican presidential nomination contest: “And as far as these accusations causing me to back off and maybe withdraw from this presidential primary race – ain’t going to happen because I’m doing this for the American people and for their children and for their grandchildren.”

7.20pm: Molly Ball of the Atlantic has this delightful and useful collection of five things a presidential contender should never say:

1. “Of course I would be willing to do a lie detector test.”

2. “I don’t even know who this woman is.”

3. “After watching that press conference yesterday, I called [my wife]. I said, ‘Sweetheart, did you see it?’ She said, ‘Yes … I have known you for 46 years … that doesn’t even sound like anything you would ever do to anyone.”

4. “I cannot say that it is a conspiracy. We do not have definitive, factual proof. We can only look at some coincidences to suggest it, that maybe someone is deliberately behind it.”

5. “There will probably be others.”

7.33pm: Uh oh. AP reports:

If there is a pattern then it’s a part of his character and then, yes, it is going to matter,” Tony Perkins, head of the conservative Family Research Center, said in an interview.

If you’ve lost Tony Perkins, you’ve lost America’s social conservatives.

7.46pm: Time to wrap up this blog for the evening – after a day in which Herman Cain did little to answer the allegations against him. The McClatchy news service has an excellent news story running through Cain’s comments.

This is only going to end in one of two ways. Either Cain will weather it, at some cost to his poll standings and ratings, and he’ll stumble on into Iowa and New Hampshire, and roll the dice. Or just the tiniest sliver of evidence will be found that completely collapses his “everything is false” defence and he’ll be gone like a Halloween pumpkin.

Who knows, it may all happen tomorrow – when there is a Republican presidential candidates debate starting at 8pm ET. We’ll be live blogging it right here.

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Chris Christie: bully, punk, or populist genius? Meet the GOP’s latest hope October 2, 2011

Some of Chris Christie’s political allies have a telling way of describing the man who has become the most talked-about candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, even though he’s adamant he’s not running.

They have in recent times called the New Jersey governor “a bully and a punk”, “vindictive”, “deranged” and “a rotten prick”.

Then there are Christie’s political enemies – and that’s how many regard themselves, not merely as opponents. They describe the governor, who claims to be the leader who can reach across the ideological divide and break the partisan deadlock in Washington, as conducting a “rule of anger”, of having “a remarkable inability to have a civil dialogue” and of using his powers as an “instrument of revenge and rebuke”. He has also been derided as “the king of liars”.

Christie burst into the race for the presidential nomination, even without declaring his intention to run, with a speech at the Reagan Library in California last week that electrified many conservatives who fear their party’s existing crop of candidates – led by Rick Perry and Mitt Romney – are not cutting it.

For months Christie has said he has no intention of seeking the nomination to challenge Barack Obama and that is the stance he maintained last week, even after one woman pleaded with him to take the White House for the sake of her children.

But his performance prompted a flurry of speculation over his many strengths as a candidate and Christie dropped a few morsels to keep the prospect alive. One was to boast that what has been good for New Jersey over the past two years under his leadership would be good for America. “Our bipartisan accomplishments have helped to set a tone that has taken hold across many other states,” he said. “This is the only effective way to lead in America during these times.”

Christie points to his accomplishments in New Jersey as disposing of an $11bn budget deficit without raising taxes, tackling public sector employee pension and health benefits that were bankrupting the state, breaking the trade unions’ grip on education policy, and reversing years of job losses through tax cuts and business-friendly policies. He capped property tax rises at 2% and claims to have created 50,000 new jobs after years of losses.

“These are reforms that had eluded previous Democratic administrations,” said Christie’s spokesman, Rick Gorka. “When you combine the reforms, the fiscal policy and the business policy, he’s been able to get New Jersey on the right track. Voters here in New Jersey support him. Recent polling put that number around 54%. Those type of accomplishments translate beyond New Jersey.”

Above all, the governor said he has forced through reform by winning over the other side. But the more the other side deals with Christie, the more it seems not to want to. Opponents say that, while he presents himself as reaching across the political divide, he is in practice pursuing a highly partisan strategy to build a following on the Republican right by emasculating government programmes for the less well off, bashing unions and looking after the rich. He has cut property tax rebates for those who most need it and hit schools with reductions in teachers and money for extracurricular activities. The cuts have included removing the entire budget for a centre for abused children and slashing aid to students from poor families to go to college.

He has also acted to reassure the right on several touchstone issues. He said he believes the science on global warming, a heresy to many conservatives, but then pulled New Jersey out of a regional initiative to cut greenhouse gases.

In contrast to his widely viewed appeal from California last week for everyone to just get along, in June he was the keynote speaker at a secretive rightwing fundraiser where confrontation, not compromise, was the order of the day. The billionaire host, Charles Koch, a funder of the Tea Party movement, lauded Christie as a potential presidential candidate as he described the 2012 election as the “mother of all wars”. The audience was mostly conservative activists who see political consensus with Democrats as surrender. That, say the governor’s critics, is the real Chris Christie.

“He’s a very polarising governor,” said Barbara Buono, Democratic party majority leader in the New Jersey senate. “The governor feeds in to people’s deepest fears and darkest instincts. He ostracises and marginalises anyone who disagrees with him. He scapegoats and demonises opponents. He has this brashness that has a real nasty edge. It masquerades as honesty, but poisons the possibility of any truly frank discussion and debate of important issues.”

Much Democrat anger centres on Christie’s handling of the state’s $30bn budget. They say his claims to have held down the deficit are a fiction and nothing more than a juggling of numbers to make the books look good while he uses the cover of the financial crisis to slash services and kill off social programmes.

But what really riles Buono is how it was done. She said the budget negotiation process consisted of Christie presenting his proposals and, when the Democrats responded by attempting to limit or reverse cuts as part of the usual back-and-forth of politics, Christie retaliated with even deeper cuts.

“He didn’t like the fact that we made changes to the budget,” she said. “Typically you have give and take between the branches. You find a way to come to a meeting of the minds. But he threw the political equivalent of a temper tantrum and used his power to cut beyond what he proposed in his original budget in some cases. He suddenly cut grants for low-income college students. Teachers and kids at dozens of suburban districts are financing the governor’s tax cut for millionaires through reductions in their school aid. The budget is a tool of political revenge and the most vulnerable are paying the price.”

The Office of Legislative Services provides independent financial assessments to the New Jersey legislature to help it draw up the budget. Buono said that, after the OLS came up with figures that challenged the revenue projections in Christie’s proposed budget, he added a measure to slash funding for the office.

“These are people who are apolitical, government bureaucrats who do their job well. He’s attempting to emasculate the independence of it,” she said. “It smacks of the politics of retribution.”

Among the most contentious cuts is the withdrawal of funding for women’s health clinics that provide cancer screenings and prenatal advice but which also happen to do abortions – another touchstone issue for the Republican right.

Christie has called Buono a “jerk” and his aides dismiss her criticisms as partisan harping. “The failed policies of Barbara Buono and her allies have brought New Jersey to the brink of bankruptcy,” said Gorka. “Governor Christie in the first part of his term has been able to address and solve the issues that eluded Buono and her allies when they were in charge. And he’s done it through bipartisan co-operation.”

Christie won over nearly a third of the Democrats in the New Jersey legislature to support his financial measures. Among those who backed him was the president of the state senate, Stephen Sweeney, whom Christie called a “friend” in last week’s speech.

Sweeney recognised the need for targeted cuts and public sector pension reform, and helped to pass what he thought was a deal set in stone. Then Christie used his power as governor to selectively veto funding for services to the poor and programmes he didn’t like. Sweeney was furious at the betrayal.

“This is all about him being a bully and a punk,” he told the press. “I wanted to punch him in his head. You know who he reminds me of? Mr Potter from It’s a Wonderful Life, the mean old bastard who screws everybody.”

Sweeney said Christie was being vindictive because Democrats had opposed his original budget: “Don’t be vindictive and punish innocent people. These people didn’t do anything to him. I’m just so angry that he hurt people like this to prove a point. He is a cruel man.”

Another Democrat who backed Christie on the budget, Sheila Oliver, the speaker of the state assembly, ended up calling him “deranged”.

One of the biggest showdowns has been over education. Ostensibly the confrontation is about the quality of teachers and schools, but underpinning it is Christie’s evident contempt for unions, something he was not shy about stating at the June fundraiser with Koch.

“The governor has consistently said that New Jersey has fantastic teachers and they deserve a union as good as they,” said Gorka. “The union and the system right now are set up to protect teachers at failing schools. There are 100,000 students trapped in 200 chronically failing schools and that is unacceptable.”

But the teachers’ union, the New Jersey Educational Association (NJEA), said that while there are evidently problems with a small proportion of schools the state’s education system overall gets some of the best results in the US. The union says Christie is creating a myth of a failing school system in order to blame the NJEA and break its opposition to deep cuts to the education budget.

“One of his first acts was to cut almost $500m out of the school budget,” said the NJEA’s Steve Baker. “He then cut another $800m out of public education. Thousands of teachers lost their jobs. There were cuts to academic programmes. It was very destructive.”

Caught up in the battle was a federal grant programme, Race to the Top. The state’s education commissioner and the NJEA collaborated on a comprehensive application that appeared certain to win the state more than $400m in funds. Christie killed the application, ordered a new one then missed the deadline.

“There was some talk radio hosts who started claiming Christie was giving in to the teachers union,” said Baker. “What he objected to was the NJEA had participated in the process. Whatever lip service the governor pays to collaboration I really think he finds it anathema to consider the perspectives of the unions.”

Christie is keeping New Jersey, and the rest of the US guessing about his next move. The Republican right looks on him increasingly favourably, but he has serious marks against him for many conservatives, including his support for gun control and lack of animus toward illegal immigrants.

John Wisniewski, chairman of the New Jersey State Democratic party, said he would be a very flawed candidate.

“He carries a particular liability,” he said. “If you look at all of his town hall meetings, all of his public appearances, he has a remarkable inability to have a civil dialogue with anybody who disagrees with him. The jaw gets clenched. The fists get tight. He points at the person. He really can’t stand to have somebody question his decisions or thought processes. That insecurity is not something that wears well on the campaign trail for president.”

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Who Should the Republicans Nominate for President in 2012? September 24, 2011

The GOP will not officially pick its presidential nominee until the Republican National Convention that takes place next August in Tampa Bay, Florida. But the race for 2012 is heating up. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who also ran in 2008, has hovered in the top-tier since his April announcement. But when Texas Gov. Rick Perry entered the race in August, he immediately joined Romney in the top tier. Rep. Michele Bachmann claimed an early win at the Ames Straw Poll, but she competes with Perry for the attention of Tea Party conservatives and faded after he entered the race. Rep. Ron Paul, who is running for president for the third time, engages the support of young people though most in the media write him off as a fringe candidate. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich plays up his congressional experience, while Herman Cain, former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza models himself to be the businessman alternative to career politicians. Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman claims to be the most electable of the field, his views on social issues being the closest to the center. On the opposite of the end of the social conservativism spectrum is former Sen. Rick Santorum.  Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson clings to the bottom tier, not even appearing at a GOP debate until late September.

[See a collection of political cartoons about the GOP contenders.]

Former Gov. Sarah Palin continues to tease the media about entering the race, but time is running out before the deadline to get on the ballot of the first primary. Some speculate she might opt for a third party bid. Much can change between now and the series of primaries that will determine the Republican candidate, but many Republican already voters have chosen their favorites.

Who is your pick for the Republican presidential nomination? Take the poll and comment below.

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Ron Paul Sees a Path to Super Tuesday Success September 22, 2011

The Christian Science Monitor hosted Texas Congressman and GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul at a Monitor Breakfast on Wednesday, September 21.

Rep. Ron Paul sees a path through Super Tuesday, and ultimately to the Republican presidential nomination. It involves the Internet, young voters—and a more polished candidate.

“I think people flat out don’t understand what I’m talking about,” he told a group of reporters this morning, referring to his economic policy. That’s “partially my fault,” he said, indicating he needs to do a better job educating people clearly about his ideas. He added, “That’s what I work on the most, is trying to refine my message.”

But he also lays some blame with the traditional media, which, he believes, gives short shrift to him and his ideas. However, he sees the Internet as a way around that barrier to get what he really needs: Exposure. “Fortunately, in this age, we can do it. There’s a thing called the Internet, and there’s alternative media,” he said. “And believe me, it has helped tremendously.” Paul has seen his message traveling farther and faster than his previous White House bids, for the GOP nomination in 2008 and as a Libertarian in 1988.

In his mind, college students are key. “That’s where I get a lot of my energy from,” he said, appearing at a press breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor, “the young people who have not had their minds clouded with a lot of other clichés into thinking of what the government should do and shouldn’t do.”

[Read: Is Ron Paul a fringe candidate?]

With most polls putting the Lone Star congressman double digits behind presumed frontrunners Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney—the latest USA Today/Gallup poll gives Paul 13 percent to Perry’s 31 and Romney’s 24—Paul understands he’s not a shoo-in for the GOP nomination. But he’s not considering a third-party run, he said. In fact, believing the country’s political mood is shifting more toward his political philosophy—”The successes of this message and the freedom movement is way beyond my expectations,” he said—Paul feels more at home in the Republican Party than ever.

[Read about Ron Paul's issue with style over substance.]

For example, he is pleased to see that his long-standing criticisms of the Federal Reserve are increasingly finding voice in the GOP mainstream. Other presidential candidates, like Perry, have started talking about the Fed, and debate moderators are asking candidates—other than him—about it. And House GOP leaders Tuesday evening sent a letter to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke urging him to avoid any further intervention in the economy. Paul thinks the letter is good for drawing attention to the issue, but “it’s too little too late,” he said. “This should have been said about 30 years ago or 40 years ago.”

Paul thinks the economic policy discussion needs to go deeper, not just on what to do about the recession, but what brought the nation to the doldrums in the first place. “In medicine, I always had to ask, ‘You’re sick, what caused your disease?’ And then I know how to treat it,” he said. “But in politics, they never ask—whether it’s a foreign policy problem or an economic problem—they never say, ‘What caused this?’ They just say, ‘Well, our theory is that we need to spend more money to get us out of recession.’”

[Check out editorial cartoons on the 2012 GOP hopefuls.]

His foreign policy has been the biggest stumbling block for Republicans. At the most recent debate, Paul was booed by the Tea Party audience for suggesting the U.S. foreign policy of nation-building inspired the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Paul supported going after Osama bin Laden after the attack, he said, but not the broader goal of war in Iraq. “After 9/11, I voted for the authority, I voted for the funding to go after those individuals responsible,” he said. “But I didn’t vote for nation-building. So as soon as they went into nation-building, I did a lot of complaining and wouldn’t vote to perpetuate it.”

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Herman Cain For President of America… April 4, 2011

Conservative businessman Herman Cain, who is mulling a run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, tells Newsmax that President Barack Obama’s “leadership weaknesses” are becoming apparent. And Cain insists that he can defeat Obama at the polls.

Cain, a newspaper columnist and former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, also says the United States can achieve energy independence if Obama allows the country to exploit its abundant natural resources fully.

Cain won a straw poll at a meeting of tea party activists in Arizona earlier this month. And a Gallup poll released Tuesday showed Cain with one of the highest “positive intensity scores” of all the potential GOP presidential candidates.

Read more on Cain: Public Now Sees Obama’s Weakness – He’s Beatable in 2012

Interesting. I like him…

Coffee Talk!

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