A little tour of political news:
In Los Angeles, a former aide to City Councilman Jose Huizar filed a lawsuit alleging that he had harassed and punished her when she refused to provide sexual favors. (Not true, the married councilman said; it was a consensual affair.) Another former council aide has filed a lawsuit alleging that a second councilmember, Mitch Englander, not only allowed a harassing environment to exist in his office but also took part with inappropriate remarks. (He denied it.)
In Sacramento, an FBI affidavit was said to claim that state Sen. Ronald Calderon (D-Montebello) had accepted more than $60,000 in bribes from undercover FBI agents, allegations first reported Wednesday by the Al Jazeera television network.
By Thursday morning, as Calderon’s attorney was pleading his innocence, other legislators were scrambling to avoid being sucked into the quicksand. State Senate leader Darrell Steinberg of Sacramento took issue with Calderon’s claim that as a favor he had hired an unqualified woman onto the Senate staff. (The woman, unbeknown to any legislator, was an undercover FBI agent.)
In Washington, Republicans and Democrats showed no signs of abating their partisan tit-for-tat, most recently at a congressional hearing Wednesday where Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was raked over the coals for the balky opening of the federal healthcare.gov website. The meeting was replete with multiple references to Kansas—Sebelius is a former governor of the state, which means she deals with mentions of Dorothy and Toto and not being in Kansas anymore the way Californians bear the cross of flakiness, blond hair and surfers.
At few points did it appear that anyone actually wanted to solve the problems of the healthcare rollout, with Republicans castigating and Democrats defending the administration. (ABC News columnist and former Bush campaign hand Matthew Dowd had a novel suggestion: how about holding hearings to ask questions to which you actually want answers, and which might solve the problem. No word on whether he had takers.)
As the healthcare measure’s tough start continued, President Obama pleaded for patience, promised the fixes would be made and blamed part of the mess on Republicans who had blocked the measure at every turn in legislatures, statehouses and the courts.
All of it begged a question when NBC News and the Wall Street Journal released their newest poll. The question wasn’t why 70% of the country thinks America is on the wrong track. The question: From what vat of optimism springs the 22% who think things are going well?
The poll was the latest in a series of surveys to suggest indelicately that America would like its political leaders to either shape up or go away for a very, very long time. The number who thought things were going well wasn’t the lowest of all time—it had actually gone up since earlier in the month—but both President Obama and congressional Republicans were suffering through their lowest numbers on record.
Obama’s job approval was 42%, to 51% negative. His image among Americans—historically, the repository for their good feelings toward him even if the country is sliding downhill—was only 41% positive, the lowest of his tenure in the Oval Office, and 45% negative. The Republican Party was liked even less, at 22% positive and 53% negative, also a record.
The poll generated some suggestions that voters might exact revenge on Congress in the 2014 elections. But there were other suggestions that things may just continue along in the current, addled way.
Asked whether they want Republicans or Democrats to control Congress next year, voters were split almost equally. Asked whether they would vote to reelect their own representative, about three in 10 said they would—a number which stands to rise as memories of the recent impasses fade (assuming they are not replaced by images of new impasses).
All told, bad news all around. Not that it changed anything: Within hours the Senate was tied up in knots again, as minority Republicans blocked two Obama administration appointments, setting up the possibility of a renewed partisan fight over the Senate’s filibuster rules.