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Inside the Beltway: Happy birthday, Mr. Reagan

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Three cheers, hip-hip hurrah. Those who fret that the 103rd birthday of Ronald Reagan on Thursday would come and go without much ado can take heart. There's big, cheerful doings planned in the tenth year since his passing. We're talking music by the Camp Pendleton Marine Division Band, a color guard, a brass quintet, a 21-gun salute, an official aircraft flyover, the blessings of a chaplain and the placing of an official White House wreath — all this at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California.

"President Reagan is one of few presidents where Americans remember the man, the president and the policies as one," John Heubusch, executive director of the Reagan Presidential Foundation, tells Inside the Beltway.

"The three were so well intertwined they are difficult to separate. He would be modest and say that it was the policies he espoused that meant so much. But, in truth, each was as important as the other," he adds.

The aforementioned event is public, and it's free. Brigadier General John W. Bullard, commander of U.S. Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, will officiate. Talk radio host and author William Bennett, a former Reagan-era Cabinet member, is keynote speaker. But wait, there's more.

"In honor of Ronald Reagan's 103rd birthday, you can now get your very own vintage Reagan/Bush '84 campaign T-shirt," notes the National Republican Congressional Committee, which is now offering the made-in-the-U.S. wearable at its online store (Nrcc.org).

Govs. Nathan Deal of Georgia, Sean Parnell of Alaska and Bill Haslam of Tennessee, meanwhile, have all proclaimed Thursday to be "Ronald Reagan Day" in their states, noting in identical six-point proclamations that the president was "a man of humble background" who advanced public good, bipartisanship, government accountability and a strong defense, among many things. The California State Assembly has approved a similar resolution.

American Conservative Union President Al Cardenas will host the inaugural Ronald Reagan Freedom and Liberty Dinner in Aiea, Hawaii — "aloha attire" encouraged. State chapters of Americans for Prosperity will also mark the day, particularly in Reagan's home state of Illinois where the design for "Dutch" — a privately funded statue depicting him as a young lifeguard — will be unveiled in Dixon, with a party later in Tampico, his hometown.

OH THE HORROR

It's not a war zone. But Sochi, site of the Winter Olympics, is being treated as such by news organizations, detailing the rigors of reporting life among journalists confronting unhygienic hotels, lousy water, missing light bulbs and other wandering dogs. Among the headlines:

"Sochi squalor: Journalists report hotel horror stories as Russians scramble to finish construction" (Fox News), "Sochi's already a mess, for journalists at least" (Newsweek), "Sochi hotels fail at the finish line as horror stories emerge" (MarketWatch), "Sleepless in Sochi" (New York Daily News); "Welcome to Sochi: Beware the water" (Chicago Tribune); "Toilet weirdness, dog killing and unfinished hotels" (The Examiner.com).

HOBBY LOBBY FLEXES ITS MUSCLE

Amid rough politics, an often unfriendly press and the complexities of Obamacare, the Hobby Lobby stores have a big announcement. The Oklahoma-based, family-owned arts and crafts retailer announced Wednesday that it will open 70 new stores around the nation, bringing the number of retail locations nationwide to 626 — including its first stores in Oregon and Vermont.

"The expansion comes amid inaccurate rumors circulating through social media that the company would be closing stores. Hobby Lobby, owned by its founders, David and Barbara Green, and operated according to the family's deeply held religious convictions, has objected to providing certain contraceptive drugs and devices mandated by the Affordable Care Act despite possible government-induced fines, a decision that may be driving the incorrect rumors," the company says in a statement.

The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear their case on March 25. The company currently has 16,000 full-time employees and 12,000 part-time employees; starting salaries for full timers, incidentally, is "no less" than $14 an hour.

"The Green family is confident that their religious freedom will be protected, and that they will continue to operate Hobby Lobby according to their faith," says Peter Dobelbower, general counsel and vice president of Hobby Lobby.

"The Greens recognized that they were being forced to either violate their religious beliefs or violate the law. That's a choice no American should have to make. A federal court has already reached the same conclusion, and we look forward to continued protection for the Greens' religious freedom," he adds.

A 'CONSERVATIVE' DEMOCRAT TO RIVAL CLINTON?

A CNN poll released Wednesday finds that 70 percent of Democrats say they will likely support Hillary Rodham Clinton should she chose to run for the White House. But interesting: could liberal fatigue be developing among Democrats? The survey also revealed that 15 percent of the respondents overall would support "more conservative Democrats" in the race. That number rises to 27 percent among moderate Democrats, and is more pronounced among men and independent voters.

Another 10 percent of Democrats overall say they would likely back a more liberal candidate, a finding which remains steady across all demographics.

"The CNN poll did not name specific Democrats who might run against Clinton, in part to test whether Clinton's strong position is due to dislike or unfamiliarity with the standard roster of potential Democratic candidates," surmises the network's poll director Keating Holland, who appears unconvinced that a strong challenger will step forward.

"The fact that Clinton tests so well against generic rivals is a strong indication that Democrats are not shopping around, hoping that another candidate will throw his or her hat into the ring," he says.

TRUMPALISCIOUS

More evidence that Donald Trump could be eyeing interesting real estate: the governor's mansion of New York. The billionaire has flirted with a presidential run for years, and his many devoted fans insist that the Trump business acumen is just the ticket for a sound economy and solvent nation. These days, however, Mr. Trump appears to be more intensely interested in local politics.

Last week, he engaged in a terse conversation with state Republican Party Chairman Ed Cox following a private dinner, probing the chairman's support of Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino as a potential candidate for governor. Witnesses were quite fascinated.

Moving right along, The Donald is also the headliner for the party's annual Lincoln Day Dinner on Wednesday, staged at a towering hotel near Grand Central Station, appearing with actor Tony LoBianco, TV executive Carlos Barba and members of the Congress of Racial Equality. Mr. Trump continues to exhibit a politician's ear for lofty advice.

"Never allow your attitude to be a liability. Be positive and strong. Set your mind on winning — and keep it there," he noted in a tweet Wednesday.

POLL DU JOUR

55 percent of Americans will watch some or most of the Winter Olympic games in Sochi.

44 percent of Americans say it was a "bad decision" to hold the games in Russia.

62 percent of that number cite security concerns as a basis for their opinion.

5 percent cite Russian President Vladimir Putin and the nation's government as their reason.

4 percent cite Russia's treatment of gays and lesbians; 4 percent "don't like Russia"; 3 percent cite "political unrest."

32 percent say they approve of the decision to stage the games in Sochi; 24 percent don't know.

26 percent will watch "very little" of the Winter Olympics; 19 percent will watch none.

Source: A Pew Research Center for the People & the Press survey of 1,003 U.S. adults conducted Jan. 30-Feb. 2.

Hurrahs, harumphs, hisses to jharper@washingtontimes.com

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