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“The Sunday Political Brunch – March 1, 2015


(Providence, Rhode Island) – Here we go again! Another partial government shutdown looms – this time the Department of Homeland Security. We’ve dissected shutdowns before - since I have been through a few - so as President Reagan might say, “There you go again!” Some of my commentary is adapted from previous shutdowns in 1995 and 2013. Let’s brunch on that this week:

“The History” – The U.S. government closed from November 14 to November 19, 1995. When it reopened, the truce did not last long. The government shut down again from December 16, 1995, through January 6, 1996. As a reporter in Washington, DC, at the time, I found it surreal. You could have fired a cannonball through the capital city and not hit a soul. It was a ghost town. The Metro rail system was largely empty. I remember interviewing a little boy outside the Smithsonian museums which suddenly closed, and his birthday visit was cancelled. It was weird seeing such a bustling city at a standstill.

“Political Fallout?” – The government shutdowns of 1995-96 did little to help Republican Presidential nominee Bob Dole. Dole was a deal-maker and power-broker in Washington, DC, not a confrontational type like then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Yet, Dole was dragged into the shutdowns as an unwitting participant. He lost the election to Bill Clinton in November by a decisive margin. Republicans also lost eight seats in the U.S. House, but maintained a solid majority. The GOP actually gained two seats in the U.S. Senate. A shutdown can have political risks – and potential benefits - for both parties.

“What’s Different Now?” – The difference is ISIS. If Homeland Security is dialed back and there is a terrorist attack, Republicans are in big trouble. As I have said before, the public has been very unforgiving over the past generation (which is 25 years). The swings in power in both the White House and Congress tell you that the public is not interested in political BS as usual. The GOP is taking the biggest risk in this standoff; and if it gambles and fails, 2016 could be a crushing backlash – not only in the race for the White House, but the race for Congress, too!

“It’s Not Just the GOP’s Fault” – In politics – as in dance – “It Takes Two, to Tango!” Republicans are blocking the Homeland Security funding because many in the party object to President Obama’s Executive Order on not deporting certain illegal immigrants. Democrats don’t think Republican objections belong in the current budget battle. But the fact that the Department of Homeland Security now oversees the Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), means the GOP concerns are relevant. It’s up to the third branch of government – the Judiciary – to determine to what extent. Bottom line: It’s not just the GOP’s fault.

“The Dynamics of Washington” – There are 535 Members of Congress. There is only one President. While much of the press coverage (and public opinion) blamed Republicans in 1995-96, in truth the Democratic White House was an equal partner in the shutdown. So why did Congress get blamed? Well, it’s the dynamic of the two institutions. Congress always looks like chaos and appears unruly. A President – sitting in the Oval Office all alone – appears under siege, but also looks more sympathetic and dignified compared the chaos down the street. Ronald Reagan knew this better than anyone else in my lifetime, and he was a master at leveraging it to shape public opinion for his own advantage.

“It’s All Relative” – Politics and public service is a “What have you done for me lately?” business. People - whether Democrats or Republicans - want whatever services are being promised. It’s called “constituent service,” and it’s one of the main advantages of incumbency. More than anything after 9-11, people want to feel that their government is protecting them. They didn’t that day, and have been jittery ever since. Anything that either party does to shake public confidence is done at its own peril. Elections are often about perceived results and public approval. Election 2016 could be a real roll of the dice!

“Boehner Banished?” – The most immediate question in all of this concerns the future of House Speaker John Boehner (photo above). At this point, there is rebellion in the party, as he is unable to reign in his own troops for a long term Department of Homeland Security budget. How long will he be Speaker? Stay tuned!

What are your thoughts? Just click the comment button at

© 2015 Mark Curtis Media, LLC.

Photo courtesy: ABC News

"The Sunday Political Brunch" -- February 22, 2015


(Providence, Rhode Island) – I am on special assignment this week, and since we had President's Day last Monday, I thought I would rerun one of my columns on Presidential trivia! I will have a brand new political column next week:

“Tallest vs. Shortest” – Many people assume that Abe Lincoln was our tallest President, and he was. But tying him at 6 feet 4 inches was Lyndon Johnson. The shortest U.S. President was James Madison, at 5 feet 4 inches.

“Weight” – William Howard Taft, at over 300 pounds was our heaviest President, and, again, James Madison weighs in as the lightest, at less than 100 pounds!

“Terms” – The longest term in office was Franklin Roosevelt at 12 years and one month. The shortest term in office was William Henry Harrison at just 30 days. Harrison, who delivered the longest Inaugural address – without a coat; out in the rain and cold – caught pneumonia and died a month into his term.

“Education” – The most recent President who did not graduate from college was Harry Truman. Five Presidents have undergraduate degrees from Harvard; four from the College of William and Mary and three from Yale. Harvard Law and Yale Law have produced two Presidents each, with one MBA from Harvard. Eleven Presidents did not graduate from college, but they include two of our best - Washington and Lincoln! Grant, Eisenhower and Carter are the only military academy graduates to become President. Woodrow Wilson was the only President with a Ph.D.

“Children” – The president with the most children was John Tyler with 15 kids. A number of Presidents had no children. Certainly the most famous Presidential children were John Quincy Adams and George W. Bush, both of whom became President after their dads. Robert Todd Lincoln, Abe’s son, became Secretary of War (now known as Secretary of Defense).

“Spouses” – President John Tyler had two wives who served as First Lady. His first wife Letitia died in the middle of his term and two years later he married Julia. Woodrow Wilson’s first wife died in his first term, and he married Edith a year later. James Buchanan was the only unmarried President, so his sister served as First Lady.

“Location, Location, Location!” – If you want to be President the best bet is Ohio, which produced seven. New York is next with six; Virginia five, Massachusetts four. California, Tennessee and Texas produced three each. In fact, the top four states produced over half of our Presidents. It’s no wonder that Gov. John Kasich (R-OH); Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY); former Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY); former Gov. George Allen (R-VA); and former Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) are considering White House bids this year. There must be something in the water of their respective states!

“Occupation” – Eleven U.S. Presidents had law degrees, (three others went to law school, but did not finish), making lawyer the most prominent occupation. Since many of them never really practiced law, and were elected from lower office, professional politician is perhaps the real number one occupation of Presidents!

“Campaign Highlights” – I have covered parts of nine Presidential campaigns, the most in depth being 2008. One of my favorite moments was working with the CNN crew and broadcasting live from Mount Rushmore in South Dakota on the final day of the primaries (photo above). It is still one of the most treasured visits I have made anywhere in the United States and made me so proud to be an American looking at those four legends carved in the rock high above! Enjoy your Presidents Day!

What are your thoughts this Presidents Day? Just click the comment button at

© 2015, Mark Curtis Media, LLC.

Photo courtesy: Nimble Books, LLC/Mark Curtis Media, LLC.

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