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Clinton campaign tries to calm allies as Biden eyes run

 Clinton aides Huma Abedin (right) and Nick Merrill watched as the former secretary of State spoke during the David N. Dinkins Leadership and Public Policy Forum at Columbia University April 29, 2015 in New York City.
Clinton aides Huma Abedin (right) and Nick Merrill watched as the former secretary of State spoke during the David N. Dinkins Leadership and Public Policy Forum at Columbia University April 29, 2015 in New York City.
Kevin Hagen/Getty Images

Some of Hillary Clinton's friends in D.C. are a bit freaked out over controversy surrounding the handling of her State Department emails, Sen. Bernie Sanders’s sudden rise in the polls, and the possibility that Vice President Joe Biden will jump in the race. So, showing concern but trying to avoid panic, campaign manger Robby Mook dashed off a memo, hand-delivered to select Washington insiders by Communications Director Jennifer Palmieri, that explains why he thinks Clinton's on a path to win the primary and the general election.

Here's my scoop:

Hillary Clinton's campaign circulated a memo to top allies in Washington this week with an unmistakably Obama-esque theme: Don't worry, we've got this.

It comes at a time when Clinton's elite Acela-corridor allies have watched her battle flagging approval and honesty ratings, an investigation into the handling of her State Department emails, a surprisingly robust challenge from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, and the possible entrance of Vice President Joe Biden into the race. And they've watched it all play out in the newspapers they read and on the television shows they watch. Some of them have started to freak out a little bit. ...

"Winning campaigns have a plan and stick to it, in good times and bad. President Obama endured significant pressure in 2007 to abandon his strategy, but his campaign remained focused on winning in Iowa and ultimately prevailed," Mook wrote.

The crux of Mook's argument is that Clinton holds leads in national polling over Republican opponents, Democrats have such a built-in Electoral College advantage that it would be hard for Clinton to screw it up, and Republicans will "drive their brand further under water by 'out Trumping' each other at debates."

Here are 9 more things to know:

1) There's a new front in the Clinton email controversy: Her aides

Some of Clinton's top aides also used personal accounts for some government work, and they've been asked to turn over emails to the government. That might be less of a problem if they weren't also senior staff members on her campaign. Jake Sullivan, Clinton's policy chief on the campaign, was one of her top aides at State, as was Huma Abedin, who is the deputy campaign manager. Rachel Bade of Politico has the story of Abedin's email:

Abedin has hired a team of lawyers, one of whom is a former Clinton aide, who are responding to information requests from the courts and State. They’ve denied any wrongdoing on the part of their client and said Abedin is cooperating with requests for official emails in her possession, aiming to turn over all her correspondence by the end of August.But her lawyers — Karen Dunn and Miguel Rodriguez — didn’t respond to questions about emails on Clinton’s separate server. Dunn is a partner at Boies, Schiller & Flexner, and she served as a senior advisor to Clinton when she was in the Senate."

2) More reason for Clinton allies to worry: Joe Biden's getting ready

Biden wants to run. He really, really wants to run. And he's making calls about it from his vacation in South Carolina, according to Peter Nicholas and Colleen McCain Nelson the Wall Street Journal reporters who broke the news that the late Beau Biden had encouraged his father to run.

From his vacation spot on Kiawah Island, Mr. Biden is giving the strongest signal yet that he is actively considering making a third run at the presidency. He is asking political allies for advice and gauging the strength of Mrs. Clinton’s campaign as he weighs his options, people familiar with the matter said. Mr. Biden is expected to announce his decision next month.

"He’s taking input from a lot of people he cares about and respects," said James Smith, a South Carolina legislator and Biden supporter who said he has urged the vice president to run. "He knows where I stand. It’s just got to be his decision."

3) Clinton moves toward lifting cap on Social Security payroll taxes

In 2008, Hillary Clinton was firmly opposed to raising the limit on the amount of money earner's pay in Social Security taxes. But earlier this week, in little-noticed remarks in New Hampshire, she opened the door to collecting more taxes from higher-end earners, which many progressives would like to see.

Here's how it works now: The government collects 6.2 percent of your income each paycheck to support Social Security. That is, unless and until you earn a certain amount in any given year. Once you hit the limit, you stop paying Social Security taxes until the next year. For 2015, the formula-based cap is $118,500, up from $117,000 in 2014. This means that rich people, and increasingly some who see themselves as middle class, essentially get a big tax break partway through the year. Their lower-income colleagues keep paying 6.2 percent. That's pretty regressive, and many liberals think the cap should be raised or eliminated altogether. There are a lot of arguments against that, but the one that resonates most in Democratic circles is that you would increasing taxes on a set of earners who are doing well but are not super-wealthy.

Here's the key part of Clinton's exchange with a participant at one of her events in New Hampshire this week.

QUESTIONER: Welcome. I was payroll manager for a large regional bank and then a hospital. And I found it to be so unfair that the executives and many of the doctors had fulfilled their social security requirement in January. And the rest of us worked and paid for months or all year. As our next president, what do you plan to do to shore up social security?

CLINTON: Well I can understand why I think you would that was unfair. I think we do have to look at the cap and we have to figure out whether we you know raise it or whether we raise it a little and then jump over and raise it more higher up.

That's different than her position in 2008, when she argued that too many cops, nurses and firefighters would see their taxes go up if the payroll cap was adjusted. That may be true in New York, but most folks in those jobs across the country aren't making $118,500 a year. The median salary for a police officer or detective was a little bit less than $57,000 in 2012, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

So, what would Clinton do about the cap? It sounds like she's thinking about adopting President Barack Obama's approach. His plan would have applied the tax to earnings up to the current cap and then re-applied them to earnings over $250,000. In 2015, income between $118,500 and $250,000 would not have been subject to payroll taxes.

But Clinton didn't elaborate on what she'll actually propose or endorse. And her policy and communications aides are not responding to questions about why she's considering changes now that she ruled out in her last presidential campaign.

4) Jimmy Carter has cancer, and it is spreading

Former President Jimmy Carter announced Wednesday that cancer was discovered in "other parts of my body" after recent liver surgery. President Barack Obama spoke for the nation in a statement released Wednesday night:

Michelle and I send our best wishes to President Carter for a fast and full recovery. Our thoughts and prayers are with Rosalynn and the entire Carter family as they face this challenge with the same grace and determination that they have shown so many times before. Jimmy, you're as resilient as they come, and along with the rest of America, we are rooting for you.

5) Does spending on the Iran vote make a difference? Probably not

Jonathan Weisman (author of a new novel) and Nick Confessore of the Times write that for the millions of dollars being spent on lobbying and television commercials to affect the outcome of congressional votes on Iran, there may be little actual impact. That's the view of Chuck Schumer, the New York senator who has strained his relationship with some of President Obama's allies by opposing the deal.

Mr. Schumer said Wednesday that he did not believe all of the activity would ultimately determine the deal’s fate, nor, he said, had donor appeals determined his decision. "All the sturm und drang around this is going to mean less than on less important issues," he said. "I know that sounds ironic, but the more substantive the decision, the less the push and pull matters."

Donors said they did not believe any senator would vote based on threats to give or withhold money — and none admitted to giving such ultimatums. But with "super PACs" poised to dump tens of millions of dollars into Senate races next year, the passions of big contributors — and their ability to change a candidate’s fortunes — are a keenly felt undercurrent to the debate. Some of the biggest donors to super PACs also have strong opinions about the Iran deal and Israel’s security.

There's a long history of members of Congress with no particular dog in a fight sucking up to interest groups and donors that might fund their future campaigns, but for the lawmakers who are truly on the fence about the merits — the ones who matter right now — campaign contributions seem like a pretty petty way to decide on a matter of security for major US allies and possibly the US.

6) Is "cuckservative" racist?

The New York Times has discovered the emasculating term "cuckservative" — a hybrid of cuckold and conservative that some conservative activists use to discredit Republicans they think are too squishy — and writes about whether it has racist connotations.

The Times reports that both racial-justice advocates and some conservatives say it's used primarily by white supremacists.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups, called the term the "ultimate insult" that the white nationalist movement can deliver to politicians who they feel have veered too far to the left. "The term, at its core, may be racist," the group said.

Many who use the #cuckservative hashtag on Twitter espouse the view that the United States is shifting from a white-dominated country to one that caters too much to minority groups. The radical nature of those ideas along with the pornographic connotations associated with "cuckold" have made the word a subject of hand-wringing among some conservative commentators. ...

Erick Erickson, the conservative media personality, condemned those who throw around the word as a handful of racist Internet trolls who hate Christians and support an agenda of white supremacism. "They are opposed to anyone who does not think in terms of the white race," Mr. Erickson wrote in a Red State diary post.

7) It's Rubio's turn to talk foreign policy

Ever since Marco Rubio arrived in the Senate looking about 250 years younger than many of his colleagues, he has tried to cultivate an image as a serious student of, and thinker about, foreign policy and national security. With Jeb Bush having delivered his prescription for American foreign policy earlier this week, Rubio will focus on his own "strategy for dealing with tyrannical regimes" at an event with the Foreign Policy Initiative Friday. Expect him to strike a much tougher tone than Bush.

8) Back by popular demand, The Donald. He's fighting with Rand now.

Over the weekend, Rand Paul went after Donald Trump hard, telling an audience that he was annoyed that Tea Party activists were attracted to a candidate whose held positions and party affiliations all over the spectrum over the years. He then cut a Web ad attacking Trump. Now, Trump is punching back. The Washington Post captures the exchange, which includes this revelation from Trump.

Recently, Rand Paul called me and asked me to play golf. I easily beat him on the golf course and will even more easily beat him now, in the world in the politics.

Senator Paul does not mention that after trouncing him in golf I made a significant donation to the eye center with which he is affiliated.

9) What the Planned Parenthood videos actually reveal

My colleague Sarah Kliff took on the task of watching hours upon hours of footage of surreptitiously taped conversations with Planned Parenthood officials. She did this so that you didn't have to. One thing she found is that there were moments when officials "seem to haggle over fetal tissue compensation and appear to make women's health a secondary priority" that are no less troubling in context than in edited versions of the videos. But she also reached another key conclusion:

This is a consistent theme throughout the 12 hours of video footage: Planned Parenthood officials emphasize, repeatedly, that they do not see fetal tissue as a revenue stream, nor do they intend to make money off of fetal tissue procurement.

Rather, they talk about it as a service they can provide to researchers and patients — something that patients want to participate in and that they want to facilitate, provided it does not lose their clinic any money.

This is the type of footage that tends to get edited out of the Center for Medical Progress clips — and it's much more prevalent than the troublesome moments I'll discuss later.