Frank James

Frank James joined NPR News in April 2009 to launch the blog, "The Two-Way," with co-blogger Mark Memmott.

"The Two-Way" is the place where NPR.org gives readers breaking news and analysis — and engages users in conversations ("two-ways") about the most compelling stories being reported by NPR News and other news media.

James came to NPR from the Chicago Tribune, where he worked for 20 years. In 2006, James created "The Swamp," the paper's successful politics and policy news blog whose readership climbed to a peak of 3 million page-views a month.

Before that, James covered homeland security, technology and privacy and economics in the Tribune's Washington Bureau. He also reported for the Tribune from South Africa and covered politics and higher education.

James also reported for The Wall Street Journal for nearly 10 years.

James received a bachelor of arts degree in English from Dickinson College and now serves on its board of trustees.

Both parties are sounding confident right now about their midterm election prospects, but only one can be right. As it stands now, Republicans clearly have more reason for optimism.

On their side, Republicans have history and a current political environment in which the Republican base looks to be more excited about the coming election than Democrats.

Meanwhile, voters are consistently telling pollsters that they're dissatisfied with the nation's direction, which usually portends bad news for the party holding the White House.

If kicking the can down the road were a competitive sport, the championship trophy would never leave Washington.

When the need to make a difficult choice collides with an unyielding deadline, the tendency in a city where partisan gridlock is the norm is to put the tough decisions off for another day.

If you have some time over the weekend or need a break from the endless LeBron James coverage, you could peruse the highly readable opinion by a Florida judge who invalidated some of the redistricting efforts by the state's Republican Legislature.

Much of President Obama's presidency currently falls into the category of damned if he does, damned if he doesn't.

That certainly is true on the question of whether he should visit the U.S.-Mexico border during his two-day visit to Texas.

Here are two rules of American politics: Never let an opponent's attacks go unanswered, and if you're running in the South and have a good reason to be pictured holding a Bible, go for it.

The first is a long-standing rule. The second is hard to argue with.

For the typical Democrat running in 2014, frequent condemnation of the Supreme Court's recent Hobby Lobby decision is a no-brainer as a rallying cry to raise money and energize voters — especially women.

Monday's ruling allows family-owned and other closely held companies to opt out of the federal health law's contraception mandate if they have religious objections.

Congressional approval ratings are at rock bottom. Why would members pull a stunt likely to make them even more unpopular than they already are?

President Obama's tough predicament on immigration is only getting worse.

He certainly didn't want to be dealing with an influx of unaccompanied minors illegally entering the U.S. across the Southern border, overwhelming the Homeland Security Department's ability to deal with them during a critical midterm election year.

It's a rich irony that on the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Riders risking life and limb in Mississippi to help African-Americans register to vote, black Democrats may decide which Republican wins Tuesday's runoff for the GOP Senate nomination.

The jockeying for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination is already shaping up to be nothing like the 2008 contest. Indeed, it doesn't even resemble a contest. It's not going too far out on a limb to say that, unlike six years ago, the nomination is Hillary Clinton's for the taking, if she wants it.

This will inevitably lead to the idea of her inevitability — and there are few words in politics more despised than that one.

Presidential aspirants have a love-hate relationship with that word when it's attached to them.

House Republicans, whose voter strength can be disproportionately found in the red states of the South and Mountain West, have once again elected a majority leader from a state that voted twice for President Obama. But the race for majority whip was won by a red-state representative who made the case for regional diversity in Republican leadership.

Hailing from California, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy replaces Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor, whose surprising primary loss to a political newcomer set the stage for Thursday's leadership elections.

Iraq has a long history of roiling American politics. And that doesn't appear about to change anytime soon.

With the Shiite-led Iraqi government losing control of large parts of its country to the Sunni extremist group known as ISIS, the question of who lost Iraq is starting to reverberate through Washington the way "who lost Vietnam" and "who lost China" did in earlier eras.

That all of this is happening during a midterm election stirs even more politics into the mix than if the current violence and ISIS inroads had occurred last year.

Does the capture of Ahmed Abu Khatallah, a key suspect in the deadly 2012 Benghazi attacks, alter the political polarity of the episode?

If so, the change wasn't immediately apparent.

While Republicans said Tuesday they welcomed the news, they also made clear that their suspicions toward President Obama on all things Benghazi were far from assuaged.

Indeed, what appeared to happen was that Khatallah's apprehension added to — rather than subtracted from — the GOP points of contention with the Obama administration.

So when exactly did Hillary Clinton change her mind on same-sex marriage? That question was left unanswered in the former secretary of state's lively exchange with Fresh Air host Terry Gross.

Who is David Brat, the slayer of a goliath of congressional politics, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor?

As Hillary Clinton contemplates a 2016 presidential run, it's clear she'll need to answer Benghazi questions in a way that neutralizes conservative attacks and avoids politicizing the issue.

In her interview with NPR Morning Edition co-host Renee Montagne, the former secretary of state unveiled a Benghazi answer that might be a road test of a message to parry GOP accusations.

Speaking of the four Americans killed in the 2012 attack, Clinton said:

One of the few revelations in Hard Choices, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's new book about her time in the Obama administration, is that she urged President Obama to end the U.S. embargo against Cuba.

"Since 1960, the United States had maintained an embargo against the island in hopes of squeezing Castro from power, but it only succeeded in giving him a foil to blame for Cuba's economic woes," Clinton writes. "It wasn't achieving its goals and it was holding back our broader agenda across Latin America."

To hear Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state and once and maybe future Democratic presidential candidate tell it, her new book, Hard Choices, isn't the kickoff to a 2016 campaign.

She still hasn't made up her mind about another run for the presidency, she told Renee Montagne, co-host of NPR's Morning Edition. It's more a review of the decisions she made as the nation's top diplomat.

A single legislator in Virginia's statehouse normally doesn't rate much attention beyond, say, his or her district or Richmond, the state capital.

But then again, the resignation of a single Democratic state senator doesn't normally shift control of Virginia's Senate from Democrats to Republicans — a move that possibly stops dead in its tracks Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe's plans to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

Is Hillary Clinton distancing herself from the Obama administration in preparation for a 2016 presidential run?

Just when it seemed like the outrage on the political right over Benghazi had subsided to the point where only the announcement of House hearings put it back in the headlines, the exchange of captive U.S. soldier Bowe Bergdahl for five senior Taliban fighters at Guantanamo Bay came along.

Now President Obama finds himself amid another foreign policy and national security controversy with fresh legs that even features Susan Rice — the White House official who played a prominent early role in the Benghazi controversy — making an encore.

While many on the left embraced the Environmental Protection Agency's new rules to reduce coal-burning power plant carbon emissions by 30 percent by 2030, some red state Democrats couldn't put enough distance between themselves and the Obama administration.

You would have had a tough time, for instance, distinguishing the reaction of Kentucky Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes from that of the man she hopes to replace, Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Senate's top Republican.

By President Obama's own admission, politics had a lot to do with why he decided to accept Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki's resignation Friday.

In saying that he accepted Shinseki's judgment that there was a real downside to him remaining in the Cabinet, Obama said: "Well, the distractions that Ric refers to in part are political."

A list of the House races for which Democrats have asked broadcasters and cable companies to reserve $44 million in ad time provides a revealing look at the shape of the midterm election landscape this fall.

  • The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee plans to spend money in some of the bluest states on the map — places like Massachusetts, Illinois and California.

This was starting to look like a bad year for the Tea Party, with primary election losses to Republican establishment candidates beginning to pile up. Then came Texas.

In yet another example of the distinctiveness of Lone Star State politics, Tea Party candidates had a field day Tuesday in primary runoff elections, knocking off several Republican incumbents.

In the highest-profile race, state senator and conservative radio host Dan Patrick, with energetic Tea Party backing, defeated Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, ending his 16 years in statewide office.

A federal court threw Rep. John Conyers a lifeline Friday with a decision that stops Michigan election officials from throwing the veteran lawmaker off the primary ballot.

The possibility of the 25-term Democratic congressman — who would become the longest-serving member in the House if he wins another term — fell into doubt when election officials said Conyers failed to secure enough legitimately collected signatures on his petitions for a spot on the ballot.

The United States Senate ratcheted up the pressure on owner Daniel Snyder on Thursday after a letter — signed by half the Senate — was sent to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, asking him to use his authority to get the Washington Redskins to change a team name that many consider racist.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's decision to have Democrats participate on the House Benghazi select committee? A defensive move.

Some of her Democrats had urged Pelosi to boycott the committee. In their view, to take part would be to play into the hands of House Republicans who want to use the ninth investigation of the September 2012 attack in Libya, which left four Americans dead, to rally conservatives for the midterm elections.

It says something about Kentucky's Republican Senate primary that its most memorable aspect wasn't some fiery debate exchange between Sen. Mitch McConnell and challenger Matt Bevin, or any kind of clash like that. There was no debate.

Instead, it was a weird viral Web video from the Senate minority leader's campaign that featured him smiling in different contexts. Naturally it was one endlessly mocked by late-night comedians and parodied on the Web — it also led to the coining of a new word: "McConnelling."

If the polls are correct, the Pennsylvania governor's race is poised to see the usual political script flipped.

The Republican incumbent, Gov. Tom Corbett, is using a populist attack against the challenger who is leading the Democratic primary field — accusing Tom Wolf of being an opportunistic businessman who profited at the expense of taxpayers and workers.

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