The annual Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, is known as a mecca for conservatives nationwide. This year luminaries like Glenn Beck, Mitt Romney, Marco Rubio and Andrew Breitbart will be speaking before an audience of thousands. The Huffington Post is there as well, sending live dispatches throughout the three-day conference. Check back here for updates, and click here for updates from Thursday.
Friday, February 19
7:00 PM -- CPAC Speaker Rails Against Gays, Draws Boos. California Young Americans for Freedom's Ryan Sorba took the stage at CPAC on Friday and proceeded to condemn the conference for it's association with a group of gay Republicans.
"I'd like to condemn CPAC for bringing GOPride to this event," Sorba said. His comments were met with boos and howls from the audience, to which he replied:
"Bring it, bring it, I love it." He continued:
"Guess what. Civil rights are grounded in natural rights. Natural rights are grounded in human nature."
Sorba then addressed one member of the audience who had apparently stood up to shout him down.
"The lesbians of Smith College protest better than you do," Sorba shot back, before leaving the stage.
5:15 PM -- Bob McDonell: Shows Up After all Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell stopped by CPAC on Friday after canceling his previously scheduled Saturday appearance at the conservative conference.
McDonnell bowed out of the Saturday speaking slot in order to return to Richmond to work on budget matters, according to his spokesman. He'll be back in Washington on Sunday to attend the National Governor's Association dinner at the White House with President Obama.
McDonnell has rapidly risen to political fame as a new face in the resurgent Republican Party. He delivered the GOP response to Obama's State of the Union address in January, just weeks after being inaugurated as Governor of Virginia.
1:30 PM -- Fact Checking TPaw. The HuffPost's Shriram Harid takes a closer look at Tim Pawlenty's CPAC speech:
The architect of Sam's Club Republicanism, Governor Tim Pawlenty may be losing his stranglehold on the title of GOP metaphorist-in-chief.
Nine years after urging the Republican Party "to be the party of Sam's Club, not just the country club", Pawlenty once again called on party-faithful to steer clear of elitism. "When you listen to the elites and the pundits talk about the tea party movement, when they talk about us conservatives, they may not always say it explicitly, but implicit in their comments is, 'Maybe they're not as sophisticated.'"
"They don't hang out at chablis drinking, brie eating parties in San Francisco," Pawlenty said.
On Friday Pawlenty also offered this advice to his fellow Republicans: "I think we should take a page out of her playbook and take a nine iron and smash a window out of big government in this country," said Pawlenty, referring to Tiger Woods's wife.
However, in light of Woods's repudiation of claims of domestic violence, Pawlenty's swipe at big government seems to have lost some of its juice.
12:30 PM -- John Ashcroft Supports Some Civilian Trials For Terrorists. The HuffPost's Sam Stein tracked down former Bush Attorney General John Ashcroft at CPAC and asked him about civilian vs. military trials for terrorists. Here's an excerpt from his report:
In an acknowledgment that throws a wrench in Republican talking points, former Attorney General John Ashcroft said on Friday that the criminal justice system does, indeed, have a role to play in trying terrorist suspects.
In an interview with the Huffington Post at the Conservative Political Action Conference, the former Bush administration official said that there are "a variety of tools that ought to be available to an administration" in its efforts to curb terrorism and bring terrorists to justice.
Asked specifically about holding civilian trials for terrorists, he said such a venue "has use and utility."
When asked how to distinguish whether to use a military tribunal system or criminal courts for terrorist suspects, Ashcroft said: "It depends on the circumstances."
11:30 AM -- Bush Recess Appointee To Obama: Make Recess Appointments. John Bolton, President Bush's most high-profile recess appointee, urged President Obama on Friday to use similar authority to move some of his own nominees into administration jobs.
Bolton, an extreme conservative, was blocked by Democrats. Bush appointed him as the Permanent U.S. Representative to the United Nations during an August recess. He served until December 2006.
Bolton told HuffPost during an interview at CPAC that being a recess appointee did not diminish his effectiveness.
"I don't think that there's any difference in a person's ability to function, whether they're there on a recess appointment or not," he said. "The Constitution provides for it and I'd be more than happy to see the president exercise his constitutional prerogatives and make some recess appointments."
Bolton said that he could have continued on in his position, even though his appointment expired, had he wanted to.
Asked whether there was a statutory hangup that would have required him to work without pay, he said, "No, I could have gotten another appointment. I decided to leave because I just felt it was better to be out of the administration, because I was disagreeing with the policy on a range of issues, from Iran to North Korea and the Middle East."
-- Ryan Grim
11:15 AM -- Steve King: Obamacare is "Toxic Stew." Here's some more evidence that congressional Republicans are in no mood to negotiate with president Obama during the upcoming health care summit.
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) told the CPAC crowd on Friday that he wanted the legislation already crafted by Senate and House Democrats "dead" and "thrown out," labeling the bills "toxic stew."
"I don't want to meet with the president of the United States to see what other kind of toxic stew he is going to serve to us. And it is a toxic stew," he said of the Feb. 25 meeting between congressional leaders and the White House. "We don't want a pot full [of toxic stew], we don't want a spoon full. We don't want a bowl full or a cup full... We want it dead."
"Throw it out and start over," King added.
There were three conditions that King -- a dynamic and bombastic conservative -- insisted would have to be met for a bipartisan bill to be forged. The first was for Democrats to scrap what they've done already. The second was for reconciliation to be taken off the table. And the third was for Republicans themselves to realize that they can't have everything they want but should demand their key principles be included.
"I want stand-alone legislation that the American people can see clearly, that is negotiated in the light of day," King concluded.
-- Sam Stein
10:45 AM -- Pawlenty gets God. Likely 2012 presidential candidate, Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R-Minn.), is not particularly well known within GOP circles as a socially conservative figure, but rather more of a blue-collar, "Sam's Club" Republican.
So when he took the opportunity during his keynote speech before CPAC attendees on Friday to declare that the public needed to understand that "God is in charge," the message seemed fairly evident: religious right, fret not.
"You have people who say, 'Come on, don't bring that up. That's not politically correct.'" Pawlenty said of all the God-talk. "Hogwash. These are enshrined in the founding documents... in the Declaration of Independence it says we are endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights. It doesn't say we are endowed by Washington D.C."
He went on: "I'm proud that in my state in the very first sentence in the very first paragraph of the Minnesota constitution. It says: "We, the people of the State of Minnesota, grateful to God for our civil and religious liberty.
"I say to those naysayers trying to crowd out God from the conversation. 'If it is good enough for the founding fathers, it should be good enough for each and every one of is.'"
-- Sam Stein
10:35 AM -- Pawlenty: "Take a nine iron and smash a window out of big government." A day after a suicide bomber struck an IRS building after penning an anti-government manifesto, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty took up the theme of violence against the state -- albeit in a metaphorical way. He joked that the most important event going on in America on Friday is Tiger Woods' impending press conference. "We can learn a lot from that situation. Not from Tiger, but from his wife. So she said, 'I've had enough.' She said, 'No more,'" he said. "I think we should take a page out of her playbook and take a nine iron and smash a window out of big government in this country. We've had enough."
-- Ryan Grim
10:30 AM -- Cantor Promises Beef At Health Care Summit. House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) gave perhaps the strongest indication to date that Republican leadership views the upcoming bipartisan health care summit as a forum to rail against Democratic-authored legislation rather than contribute to it.
Speaking before the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday, the Virginia Republican pledged to "hand down an indictment of the Democrats' bill" during the Feb. 25th meeting with congressional leadership and the White House. He then went on to suggest that the legislation in the works from President Barack Obama was a path to a full government takeover, a giveaway to special interests, and potentially unconstitutional.
"Lord only knows what's up their sleeves," Cantor said. "What we will do in encountering this president is, number one, ask the question, 'Why in the world would he support a bill like those that have come out of the Senate and the House?' These bills are flawed by their very nature. They are the bills that America has awakened to and have rejected.
"These bills are predicated upon backdoor dealing. They are predicated upon requiring the purchase of health care insurance that has a questionable constitutional origin. These bills are ultimately designed to lead this country to a single-payer system, something that the American people reject."
Cantor insisted that the only way Democrats and Republicans will come to agreement is if the president agrees to "push the reset button" on health care legislation. "We will say no" to his bill, he added, "because that's what the American people want."
Read the full story.
-- Sam Stein
Thursday, February 18
Boehner criticizes Professor Obama. John Boehner lashed out at President Obama for his finger wagging and lecturing the GOP on policy issues. Here's an excerpt from Sam Stein's report:
House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said on Thursday that President Barack Obama "slapped the table," wagged his finger and scolded him at a recent White House meeting.
Boehner's crime? Allegedly scaring the American public into a state of economic anxiety.
In a speech before the Conservative Political Action Conference, the Ohio Republican accused the president of excessive "finger-wagging" lectures. Driving the point, he relayed his version of a jobs-related conversation that Republican leadership had with Obama and his advisers.
Read the whole post for Boehner's extended take on his recent meeting at the White House.
6:30 PM -- Romney Redux. Presidential aspirant Mitt Romney appears to be out of touch with the American people on campaign spending, as his remarks at CPAC suggest.
Deriding President Obama's position on a recent Supreme Court decision, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, freeing corporations from existing political spending restrictions, Romney said, "The President found it inexplicable that the first amendment right of free speech should be guaranteed not just to labor union corporations and media corporations, but equally to all corporations, big and small.
"When it was all over, I think most Americans felt as I did: his noisy critique and bombast did not register as clear and convincingly as Justice Alito's silent lips forming these words: 'Not true!'" Romney added, referring to Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito's moment of vocal disapproval at the President's recent State of the Union Address.
In reality, however, a recent Washington Poll-ABC News poll suggests that Americans are overwhelmingly in tune with President Obama on the issue. Eight of 10 poll respondents indicated that they were opposed to the Court's Jan. 21 decision. 65 percent were "strongly opposed", with 72 percent in support of reviving prior campaign spending restrictions. (SHRIRAM HARID)
5:25 PM -- Liz Cheney Supports "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" Repeal. Fresh off a loudly anti-Obama anti-Democrat speech, Liz Cheney, daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, told Talking Points Memo that she thought "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" should be repealed.
"It's time for it to end," she said. "The joint chiefs, certainly the chairman of the joint chiefs, has been clear about that and I think that the country really is at a place now where it's time for it to end."
But in the same interview, she railed against the Obama administration's approach to the Christmas Day bomber investigation and expressed concern that the recent capture of Taliban leaders would end up being a wasted opportunity because intelligence officials won't use enhanced interrogation tactics. (NICK WING)
5:15 PM -- Gay GOP Group Has Presence At CPAC. After defeating protests and boycott attempts by prominent social conservative groups, a gay Republican organization called GOProud is attending CPAC today, Mother Jones reports. The conservative gay-friendly group already has 2,000 members and is growing. Its booth at the conference was separated by a single table from the National Organization for Marriage, the anti-gay marriage group, but there have been no reports of further drama.
4:30 PM -- Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas's Wife At CPAC. Hot Air blogger Ed Morrissey spoke with Virginia Thomas, conservative activist and wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, to get some information on her new initiative, Liberty Central. The effort is aimed primarily at educating Tea Party activists about the "core founding principles" of conservatism, which Thomas lists as "limited government, personal responsibility, individual liberty, national security and free enterprise."
"We need to save our country. [Obama] has turned hard left and we need to stand up and realize what's at stake here," Thomas said. She hopes these educational tools will help conservatives understand exactly what it is about Obama that is so dangerous.
3:00 PM -- Spotted at CPAC: Liberals. Rachel Maddow, the left-leaning MSNBC host, has been milling around the CPAC conference today.
"I didn't plan to come to Washington to cover CPAC," Maddow told Politico's Michael Calderone (she was actually in town for a Library of Congress event). "Since I was in town, and I knew we'd be talking about CPAC, it made sense to just stop by and see for myself."
2:45 PM -- Scott Brown could side with Dems on jobs bill. When HuffPost's Sam Stein asked the newly-elected Republican senator whether he was open to supporting the Democratic jobs bill, Brown said he was not ruling it out.
"We are analyzing it right now," he told HuffPost. "It is coming on Monday so we will be [weighing in] soon."
2:30 PM -- Mitt Romney sticks up for W Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney stuck up for the Bush administration during his CPAC remarks.
"I am convinced that history will judge President Bush far more kindly," said Romney. "He pulled us from a deepening recession following the attack of 9-11, he overcame teachers unions to test school children and evaluate schools, he took down the Taliban, waged a war against the jihadists and was not afraid to call it what it is--a war, and he kept us safe."
Read the rest here.
2:00 PM -- Scott Brown tells CPACers: "Listen to Governor Romney." Newly elected Senator Scott Brown (R-Mass.) made a surprise appearance at CPAC on Thursday to offer what amounted to a fairly full-throated endorsement of Mitt Romney, the once -- and potentially future -- presidential candidate.
Speaking before Romney took the stage, Brown called the former Massachusetts governor "one of the Republican Party's bright lights."
"If you want to fix something that is broken ... you have to listen to Governor Mitt Romney," he said. "I know what he is talking about when he speaks to me about these issues... And he really means it when he says he is committed to rebuilding the Republican Party."
Romney is not an official presidential candidate in 2012 though many political observers expect him to jump in the race. And it's usually common practice for politicians to back president aspirants from their home states.
But for all the talk of the ascendance of the Republican Party there are still serious questions as to who is its leading figure. And when someone as popular as Brown offers up such a emotional backing, it can go a long way towards elevating that person's standing. At the very least it helps shore up some of the Romney skepticism that currently exists within the GOP.
1:30 PM -- Conservatives Stomp On 'Liberal Media' -- Literally. The conservative Media Research Center's booth has an interesting carpet, Wash Indy's Dave Weigel points out. The patchwork floor covering is adorned with pictures of MSNBC pundits Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann and is accompanied with the directions "stomp out the liberal media." In Weigel's action photo, it looks like somebody might be doing just that. (NICK WING)
12:50 PM -- Dick Cheney In The House. Former Vice President Dick Cheney made a surprise appearance Thursday at the convention along with his daughter Liz Cheney. His appearance was met by thunderous applause.
"Cheney 2012!" shouted one man. Cheney flashed a huge smile.
"A welcome like that is almost enough to make me want to run for office again," he said, adding a dramatic pause. "But I'm not-a gonna do it."
Cheney's speech was short. He predicted 2010 would be a great year for conservatives and made a joke about being his daughter's arm candy.
"I think Barack Obama is a one term president," he told a roaring crowd. "It's a great time to be a conservative."
Liz Cheney also came out swinging in her conference address.
"There's no polite way to put this, but that kind of incompetence gets people killed," Cheney said, accusing the Obama administration of missing warnings from the intelligence community that Yemeni terrorists were plotting an attack.
12:45 PM -- Rubio's Purity Test Dodge. Conservative senatorial candidate Marco Rubio dodged questions on Thursday as to whether he believes that the Republican Party should have an ideological purity test to determine which candidates can hold office.
Asked by the Huffington Post what he thought of such an idea -- exemplified by the signing of the Mount Vernon Statement (conservative principles for the "Obama era") on Wednesday -- Rubio demurred.
"I think the test for candidates needs to be what do you stand for," he said. "Are you going to have a clear vision for America's future and what are your ideas to help accomplish that."
Pressed whether he thought the GOP would be better off if it purged itself of moderates like the two Republican Senators from Maine -- Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins -- Rubio replied: "Every state gets to decide who they want to send to the U.S. Senate. What I ultimately want the Republican Party to be is a voice that understands that the agenda this administration is advocating for our country is wrong and will rob us of our exceptional-ism."
The topic of ideological purity is a potentially tricky one for the now-frontrunner in the Florida Senate election in part because his record and story are seen as, essentially, spotless by much of the conservative movement. Speaking Thursday morning at CPAC, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), one of Rubio's loudest boosters, declared that he would rather have "30 Marco Rubios" in the Senate than "60 Arlen Specters" -- an implicit declaration that policy rigidity trumped congressional majorities.
Asked whether he too thought the GOP would be better off with him and others like him in the minority than with numbers to run Congress, Rubio said:
"I think the point he was trying to make, and I think the point matters. And I think the point he was trying to make is that this party needs to understand what it stands for. It can't just be an organization designed to simply and only win elections. Winning elections should be the result of being a strong, viable, genuine movement in America that is speaking out on behalf of the things the American people want."
12:30 PM -- DeMint Open To A Third-Party Candidate. Following Sen. Jim DeMint's (R-S.C.) CPAC speech, which criticized the current state of conservatism in America, the South Carolina Senator said he wouldn't rule out backing third-party candidates if the GOP candidates weren't sufficiently conservative.
""That's the last resort," DeMint said, according to Roll Call, adding that "if Republicans only have one choice ... then they're going to look towards a third-party candidate." (NICK WING)
12:20 PM -- McCain punching bag and conservative bumper stickers are favorites of CPACers. Conservative conventioneers who've snuck out of speeches and panel discussions on liberty and threats to our nation are drawn to the row of booths harking freedom oriented bric-a-brac and pitching the Astroturf services of DC consultants.
The popularity of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the GOP's 2008 presidential candidate, can be gauged by watching how many CPACers avail themselves of the opportunity to take a swipe at a literal McCain punching bag. "Big Mac McCain" reads a roughly four foot tall bag sponsored by a group of Ron Paul followers. "Anyone can take a swing at McCain," said one Paul backer at the booth.
The guys from PatriotDepot.com, meanwhile, went the bumper-sticker route for an anger outlet. If the bumper statements are any guide, CPACers would love to see a 2012 ticket that's some combination of Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin.
Most of the bumper stickers riffed off of the idea of "change" or satirized Bush-era bumper stickers. A few samples from the table:
"Obama Lied...The Economy Died"
"Benedict Arlen/Don't Re-Elect A Traitor"
"Comrade Obama, USSA, 'Chains' We Can't Afford" [This one includes the requisite hammer sickle.]
"You Can Keep "The Change": Palin 2012"
"Rush Is Right: Limbaugh 2012"
"I'll Keep My Guns, Freedom & Money...You Can Keep The Change"
"9-ll-2001 Elephants Remember...Jackasses Forget"
Obama's red, white and blue logo, followed by: "Got A Birth Certificate?"
11:45 AM -- CPAC speaker mock Obama's use of cocaine. Jason Mattera of the Young America's Foundation repeatedly referred to the president's admitted use of drugs, declaring at the conference: "Our notion of freedom doesn't consist of snorting cocaine, which distinguishes us from Barack Obama."
More from Sam Stein's report on Mattera's provocative remarks.
11:30 AM -- Arlen Specter Bashing. Several CPAC speakers trashed Pennsylvania turncoat Sen. Arlen Specter (D), who switched parties last year.
From Sam Stein:
Florida Senate candidate Marco Rubio said, "The U.S. Senate already has one Arlen Specter too many." The next speaker, Sen. Jim DeMint (D-S.C.), recalled with glee how he and his political action committee, the Senate Conservatives Fund, helped drive Specter away from the Republican Party in early 2009.
10:45 AM -- Rubio Slams Obama For Using Teleprompters. As Sam Stein and Ryan Grim report: "Marco Rubio, began his address to a crowd of conservative conventioneers by taking a shot at President Obama for reading from a teleprompter. He did it while standing in front of two easily visible teleprompters."
More from their report:
It was unclear whether the devices were placed there for him or for other speakers at the Conservative Political Action Committee conference, or CPAC, at which he was a keynote speaker. A HuffPost reporter, however, watched his speech from the front row and Rubio could clearly be seen looking intently and repeatedly at the teleprompters. He also had a stack of papers with him at the lectern and flipped through them as the speech progressed, perhaps unwilling to take any chance he would flub the swipe at Obama.
Read the full story.
10:00 AM -- CPAC's opening line. "Welcome to the vast right wing conspiracy!" Cleta Mitchell of American Conservative Union, which organizes the CPAC conference. Her line drew loud applause from those who packed a ballroom at the Marriott Wardman Park in Washington, DC, where the conference is being held.
9:45 AM -- Thursdays highlights. Marquee speakers on today's CPAC agenda include House Republican Leader John Boehner (R- Oh.), former Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, Sen. Jim DeMint (R- S.C.), and Liz Cheney, daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney.
Noteworthy events include panel discussions such as "Is it time for a Catholic Tea Party? The Importance of Catholic Participation in Government" to the more high-pitched "Saving Freedom from The Enemies of Our Values" and "When All Else Fails: Nullification & State Resistance to Federal Tyranny". (SHRIRAM HARID)