The Edge is National Journal's daily look at today in Washington -- and what's coming next. The email features analysis from NJ's top correspondents, the biggest stories of the day -- and always a few surprises. To subscribe, click here.
Looking for Leadership
It's become pretty clear that congressional Republicans are not going to shut down the government if Democrats don't agree to defund Obamacare. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor recently said as much.
This should not be a surprise. Outside a smattering of tea-party senators, there's been little support for using a government shutdown as leverage, mostly because Republicans know they'll take the brunt of the blame.
So that brings us to the debt limit. Republicans insist that any increase in the nation's borrowing limit be met with commensurate cuts and entitlement reforms, while President Obama refuses to negotiate.
If the debt limit isn't raised and the government defaults, it could throw the country back into recession. Both sides know this, which is why their current positions are untenable.
As Republican Rep. Tom Cole put it recently, "The only two things that really risk the Republican majority in 2014 would be if we shut down the government or if we defaulted on the debt. So I think these demand real leadership."
The question is, will anyone deliver?
NSA UNLAWFULLY COLLECTED THOUSANDS OF EMAILS BEFORE PROGRAM ENDED. The National Security Agency broke the law in gathering up to tens of thousands of emails and other digital communications between Americans as part of a program that was ordered discontinued in 2011, The Washington Post reports. Intelligence officials today declassified an 86-page opinion of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, revealing why Chief Judge John Bates determined that the government had "advised the court that the volume and nature of the information it has been collecting is fundamentally different from what the court had been led to believe." The Post notes that officials stressed the NSA itself informed the court that their collection method was problematic. Read more
- Both current and former officials have told The Wall Street Journal that the NSA's surveillance network can monitor about 75 percent of U.S. Internet traffic, a figure far greater than the agency has publicly disclosed. Read more
MANNING SENTENCED TO 35 YEARS. Pfc. Bradley Manning was sentenced Wednesday to 35 years in prison for his role in providing WikiLeaks with more than 700,000 secret U.S. diplomatic cables, The New York Times reports. Manning was facing a maximum sentence of 90 years, though prosecutors had requested a 60-year term. The sentence will allow Manning, who will be credited with 1,254 days for time already served—including 112 days of pretrial confinement the judge ruled unlawful—to be eligible for parole after a little more than eight years, or a third of his sentence. WikiLeaks touted the ruling as a "strategic victory," while Daniel Ellsberg, who released the Pentagon Papers, called Manning "one more casualty of a horrible, wrongful war." Read more
- Manning's defense lawyers told The Daily Beast he was in a "cheerful mood" after the sentence was handed down and that he vowed to stay positive. Read more
OBAMA AIMS TO TACKLE COLLEGE AFFORDABILITY THIS WEEK. President Obama sent an e-mail to supporters Tuesday expressing his intent to roll out new proposals to make college more affordable and reshape the way people pay for higher education, The New York Times reports. The e-mail did not reveal specifics of those proposals, and White House aides are refusing to give details leading up to the president's two-day bus tour through upstate New York and Pennsylvania. "To create a better bargain for the middle class, we have to fundamentally rethink about how higher education is paid for in this country," Obama said in the e-mail. "We've got to shake up the current system." Read more
AIDES TO BRITAIN'S CAMERON PUSHED GUARDIANTO DESTROY SNOWDEN DATA. Two senior aides to U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron pressured The Guardian to destroy its cache of intelligence data provided by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, political sources tell Reuters. According to the sources, Cabinet Secretary Jeremy Heywood and National Security Adviser Kim Darroch were asked by Cameron to deal with The Guardian's publication of articles revealing NSA surveillance programs. Cameron, who is currently on vacation, has not yet commented on the claims. Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald has refused to say whether his partner, David Miranda, was in possession of classified data when he was detained by British authorities earlier this week. Read more
SYRIAN REBELS CHARGE ASSAD WITH GASSING HUNDREDS. Rebel activists today accused the Syrian government of hitting parts of Damascus with rockets armed with poison gas that some claim killed as many as 1,300 people in what could be the deadliest use of chemical weapons in decades, The New York Times reports. Videos released online showed local hospitals dealing with high numbers of casualties, but the Syrian government has denied the allegations of chemical-weapons use. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., assailed President Obama on Wednesday for not responding to the violence in Syria: "No consequence for Assad using chemical weapons & crossing red line — we shouldn't be surprised he's using them again," McCain said via Twitter. Read more
- Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey said that the Obama administration opposes U.S. military intervention in Syria because the rebels would not support U.S. interests if they came to power, the Associated Press reports. Read more
EGYPT'S MUBARAK ONE STEP CLOSER TO PRISON RELEASE. An Egyptian court Wednesday ordered former President Hosni Mubarak released from prison because all appeals by prosecutors to keep him there have been exhausted, The New York Times reports. Some say Mubarak, 85, could be freed within hours, while other reports maintain that prosecutors will have 48 hours to appeal the release of the former autocratic ruler. Even Mubarak opponents are expecting his release to occur soon, though he still could face trial on two other charges, including a retrial for complicity in the deaths of hundreds of protesters when his regime was crumbling in January 2011. Mohamed Morsi, Egypt's first democratically elected president, remains in custody following his ouster by the military last month. The office of the prime minister announced today that Mubarak will be placed under house arrest. Read more
WHY HAVE IMMIGRATION-REFORM OPPONENTS BEEN QUIETER THIS SUMMER? Anti-immigration groups worked aggressively to kill reform efforts in 2007, but have been relatively docile this summer, even as momentum on the other side has geared up this month, Politico reports. One possible explanation for the passion gap is an expectation that a reform bill is unlikely to get through Congress. "The people on our side, right now, they aren't all that terrified," one anti-immigration advocate said. Meanwhile, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., is being backed for his border-security-first approach, and other Republicans could wait to see how Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., handles primary challenges before deciding how to wade into the reform debate. Read more
OBAMA ENDORSES CORY BOOKER FOR SENATE. President Obama endorsed Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker's candidacy in the special election to fill the seat vacated by the passing of Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., calling Booker an "important partner," USA Today reports. "Cory Booker has dedicated his life to the work of building hope and opportunity in communities where too little of either existed," Obama said. The announcement is yet another boost for the heavily favored Booker, who is facing Republican nominee Steve Lonegan. Read more
WELL-FUNDED HOUSE CHALLENGERS SPOOK INCUMBENTS. Roughly one-fourth of the 28 most vulnerable House incumbents are set to face off against opponents with unusually large war chests, Bloomberg reports. "To have challengers at that level of funding this early in a race, everybody knows they're likely to make this a battle," Democratic consultant Glenn Totten said. The aggressive fundraising highlights the importance of next year's midterm elections for both parties, though a Democratic takeover remains unlikely in part due to Republican state legislatures redrawing district lines before the 2012 election. Read more
OBAMA DISCUSSES HIGHER EDUCATION IN UPSTATE NEW YORK. President Obama will travel to the University at Buffalo, the State University of New York, where he will "discuss the importance of ensuring that every American has the opportunity to achieve a quality education by reducing cost and improving the value of higher education for middle-class students and their families" at approximately 11:15 a.m. The president also will deliver remarks on college affordability at Henninger High School in Syracuse, N.Y., at approximately 6 p.m.
"The party is acting as if the entire world is a GOP primary." -- Republican strategist Mike Murphy (The Washington Post)
THE INFORMATION HIGHWAY? The Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Technologies (BRAIN) initiative, which was announced by President Obama in April, could be the next big, national science effort to capture the country's imagination, Michael Dhar reports for LiveScience. The brain-mapping project could be incorporated into pop culture and the arts, and change the way we think about behaviors, as did the Human Genome Project and the Apollo 11 moon landing. "It cuts much deeper and is more encompassing than any other medical subject," said Ralph Greenspan, associate director of the Kavli Institute for Brain and Mind at the University of California, San Diego, and one of the initial backers of the project. "It's the whole question about who we are." And though BRAIN does not have the Apollo mission's Cold War significance, Dhar writes that its place in history may be similar to the Genome Project, "celebrated not so much as an iconic, single event, but as a highly meaningful exploration." Read more
ANNIE GET YOUR GUN PERMIT. The National Rifle Association has created a large database of past, current, and potentially future gun owners, usually without the knowledge or consent of the person involved, BuzzFeed reports. The organization has compiled the database, which likely spans beyond its approximately 3 million members, by obtaining gun-permit registration lists from states and counties across the country, receiving the names of new gun owners from gun-safety instructors, and purchasing lists of gun-show attendees, gun-magazine subscribers, and more. Read more
JUMPING THE SOCIAL-MEDIA SHARK. The White House social-media team has done a great job using Twitter over the years, BuzzFeed's Samir Mezrahi writes. The high-water mark likely came when the Barack Obama account tweeted a photo of the president and his wife sharing a hug moments after the world learned on Election Night that he'd be working in the Oval Office for another four years. But after a Mean Girls reference involving first dog Bo last week went viral, the White House Twitter team has simply gone too far with its attempts to be cute and funny, Mezrahi argues. Read more