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Cameron Joseph

Cameron Joseph is Talking Points Memo's senior political correspondent based in Washington, D.C. He covers Capitol Hill, the White House and the permanent campaign. Previous publications include the New York Daily News, Mashable, The Hill and National Journal. He grew up near Chicago and is an irrationally passionate Cubs fan.

Articles by Cameron

Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore (R) took aim at journalists during a Tuesday visit to Capitol Hill. After refusing to say if he stood by earlier comments that Muslims shouldn’t be allowed to serve in Congress, Moore offered reporters a lesson in his view of religious liberty.

“Reporters don’t understand religious liberty, where it comes from. It comes from God, not from the Constitution,” Moore declared as he entered an elevator in a Senate office building.

Those remarks came after he repeatedly told reporters he wouldn’t talk to them about his earlier op-ed that Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) shouldn’t be allowed to serve in Congress because he’s a Muslim.

“I’ll address that later. I didn’t say he couldn’t. You go read my World Net Daily article — it says ‘should,’ not ‘could,'” Moore said. “Read my article and you’ll find out what I believe.”

Moore was in the Capitol after joining the weekly GOP Senate luncheon. Republican leadership, after trying to defeat Moore in his primary, are now rallying to his cause — even if they say they disagree with some of his views.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) took issue with his party’s embrace of Moore, slamming them for hypocrisy for complaining about Democrats voting against a religious Catholic judge while embracing a man who doesn’t believe in religious liberty.

“When a judge expressed his personal belief that a practicing Muslim shouldn’t be a member of Congress because of his religious faith, it was wrong. That this same judge is now my party’s nominee for the Senate from Alabama should concern us all. Religious tests have no place in the U.S. Congress,” he said.

Moore said he’s “not commenting” when asked if he still believed homosexual conduct should be illegal — and declined to address earlier comments that the Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage was worse than the Dred Scott decision that codified slavery.

Moore wrote in the World Net Daily article that “Islamic law is simply incompatible with our law.”

“Can a true believer in the Islamic doctrine found in the Quran swear allegiance to our Constitution? Those who profess a sincere belief in Allah say ‘no!'” he said.

Moore, a former Alabama Supreme Court chief justice who was twice forced from office, is currently the front-runner for Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ old Senate seat.

He has a long history of controversial comments and actions on race and religion, as TPM has previously documented.

Before Moore’s comments, he had a meeting with a few aides in a Senate coffeeshop. Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL), who Moore recently defeated in a bloody primary, happened to pop in for coffee — and breezed by Moore’s table without saying hi to his old foe.

Strange told TPM he hadn’t seen Moore as he exited — but didn’t go back in to say hi.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) isn’t eager to address the bombshell news on special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion between Russia and President Trump’s campaign — or steps to ensure the investigation is protected from possible meddling from the White House.

McConnell didn’t make a single remark addressing the news — or bipartisan legislation to keep Trump from firing Mueller — throughout the day on Monday, avoiding the topic during his daily Senate floor speech and ducking out early from a press conference on judicial nominees in order to avoid reporters’ questions.

Two bipartisan bills are being pushed to make sure Trump doesn’t meddle with the Russia investigation — one from Sens. Tom Tillis (R-NC) and Chris Coons (D-DE) and another from Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Cory Booker (D-NJ). Both, and an accompanying House bill, would attempt to block Trump from firing Mueller. McConnell has so far refused to say if he’d bring either bill to the floor.

A McConnell spokesman told TPM via email that he didn’t have “any information for you beyond what has been publicly reported” on the matter.

McConnell wasn’t the only Republican eager to avoid questions — none of the more than half-dozen GOP senators who gathered to accuse Democrats of anti-Catholic bias for opposing a Notre Dame professor’s judicial nomination wanted to talk on-camera about the huge news.

That included Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA), who nearly knocked over an American flag in his haste to flee the ongoing press conference through a back-door exit.

And Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) repeatedly ducked questions about the Russia probe and what the Senate should do to protect it.

“That’s why I said this topic,” Cornyn said with a smile as he ducked the first in a series of reporters’ questions on the matter.

“We’ll have plenty of time for that… in an individual one-on-one basis” he said later — then ended the press conference without addressing the question on-camera.

Cornyn told TPM as he walked out that “I’ve seen no evidence that the legislation is necessary at this point” when asked about the two bills.

 

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Alarmed by President Trump and the shrinking faction of Republicans willing and able to stand up to him, Mitt Romney is seriously considering one more run for public office.

Sources close to Romney tell TPM that he’s leaning toward a run if Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) decides to retire, a move that sources close to Hatch say is more likely than not. And they say that while Romney was initially not keen on running for the Senate, the retirements of Trump-critical Sens. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Bob Corker (R-TN) and John McCain’s (R-AZ) ongoing health problems have left a void he thinks desperately needs to be filled.

“There’s a demand for people like him in the Senate. We’re losing people like Jeff Flake, who’s a conservative but an independent voice, we’re losing Bob Corker. Now more than ever we need statesmen and people with integrity in public office, and Mitt Romney fits that description,” former Romney spokesman Ryan Williams told TPM, after emphasizing he hasn’t talked to Romney about the race.

Flake’s decision to retire this week means the GOP senator most fiercely critical of Trump won’t be around for much longer. But the other Arizona senator’s status is likely weighing more on Romney’s mind.

McCain is the only Republican left in Washington who can truly stand up to Trump in an effective way at this point. He has the gravitas and celebrity of a former presidential nominee that gives him a huge platform, and he was just reelected and doesn’t need to worry about the GOP base. McCain can’t be dismissed as too moderate like Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), or as a conservative gadfly like Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Ben Sasse (R-NE).

McCain’s bleak cancer prognosis has left his political future uncertain. That paired with the loss of Flake and Corker, as TPM noted earlier this week, means barely anyone in the GOP worth noting could be left to buck the White House after 2018. That would change if the 70-year-old Romney, who led the anti-Trump GOP resistance throughout the 2016 campaign, steps out of retirement to run for Senate.

“If Mitt Romney runs for Senate in Utah, then we might see the beginnings of a counter-insurgency, but until then it does look like a mopping up operation,” National Review writer and Trump critic David French said on MSNBC Friday evening.

Romney took it upon himself to lead the anti-Trump charge throughout the GOP primary, with many of his deputies following him to battle Trumpism. After giving a nationally televised speech where he called Trump a “fraud,” Romney led the last-gasp efforts to stop him in the primary, campaigning from Utah to Ohio to try to deprive Trump of the nomination, slamming him even after he’d sown it up, and refusing to endorse him in the general election.

“Through the calculated statements of its leader, Trumpism has become associated with racism, misogyny, bigotry, xenophobia, vulgarity and, most recently, threats and violence. I am repulsed by each and every one of these,” he wrote in a March Facebook post.

“I don’t think you could have a bigger cultural clash, and Romney would give that point of view a very powerful and eloquent voice in Washington,” Alex Castellanos, a former Romney adviser who first fought Trump’s nomination then helped him in the general election, told TPM. “Donald Trump has unified the Republican Party, he’s purged it of the non-Trump Republicans. McCain may unfortunately leave because of his health, Corker and Flake are on their way out. There’s a vacuum of powerful establishment Republican voices.”

Hatch, who is 83, is publicly rejecting the idea that he’s decided not to run for reelection. But sources close to Hatch’s office tell TPM that he’s leaning that way — and wants Romney to step up if and when he decides to retire after tax reform efforts conclude.

“Hatch has told Romney ‘I want you to replace me if I don’t run again,'” a source close to Hatch’s office told TPM on Friday.

Romney would be a formidable candidate in Utah, where he has an immense reservoir of goodwill and where the Mormon Church holds sway, especially in GOP politics. But he’d likely face a primary challenge from a more conservative foe, likely with the backing of former Trump chief strategist Steve Bannon.

“Mitt doesn’t have a clear shot. Utah politics are so convoluted right now. Obviously if he jumps in that’d clear the deck of a couple of mid-tier candidates in deference to the Thirteenth Apostle. But Mike Lee was on that third tier eight years ago and emerged out of nowhere,” a Utah GOP strategist, who declined to discuss the race on record until Hatch makes a formal decision, told TPM.

Sources who know Romney also say public service truly animates him — that’s why even after all his harsh criticism of Trump he was willing to be Trump’s secretary of state.

“To you or me, you’re sitting on a few hundred million dollars and 30-some grandkids … Why would you waste all that being in the Senate? But Romney, to his credit, he views his role as someone like John McCain. If John McCain, the conscience of the Senate, isn’t around much longer who fills that role? I think Romney thinks he can fill that role,” said the Utah Republican.

It’s far from certain that Mr. Romney will go to Washington. But if he does, that could shake up a city where anti-Trump Republicans are an endangered species. And it would put Romney directly back into the spotlight after years in the wilderness.

“I do think that Mitt’s career and political journey are unfinished,” said Castellanos.

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Longtime Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) is leaning towards retirement, two sources tell TPM, and has told former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney that he wants him to run if he does decide to step down.

Those comments come after five sources told The Atlantic’s McKay Coppins, the best-sourced reporter on Mormon politicians, that Hatch is telling allies he’s planning to retire at the end of his term next year.

Two sources close to Hatch’s office tell TPM that he’s leaning towards retirement, though he hasn’t made a final decision, and that he’s told Mitt Romney that he wants him to step up for the seat if he does decide to retire.

“It is true, Hatch has told Romney ‘I want you to replace me if I don’t run again’ but the timing is crucial,” said one source, who said Hatch doesn’t want to be sidelined in the ongoing tax reform push or hurt the efforts. “If I were to buy futures I’d probably be buying futures on someone besides Hatch being senator.”

Another source concurred, saying Hatch hasn’t made a final decision and is waiting to make any announcement until the tax reform effort is done one way or the other.

“He’s just gone back and forth and my guess is he’s going to retire,” another source close to Hatch’s office told TPM. “Some people on his staff have said that [he’s retiring] but a couple have said he’s going to run again. He’s trying to keep himself in the mix for now but he’s almost 84.”

That would be a sea change in Utah politics as well as in the Senate, where Hatch has served since the 1980s.

But recent polls have shown most Utahns want Hatch to retire — and even his allies concede he’s likely to face a tough primary challenger that won’t be as easy to dispatch as the one he defeated six years ago.

That could open the door to a Trump ally in a state where even most Republicans don’t like the president.

“A really strong primary challenger could beat him and he’s got to know that,” TPM’s source said.

If Romney runs, he’d likely be the strong favorite in a state where the Mormon church still holds immense sway over state politics. Romney has been fiercely critical of Trump, and could fill a void that’s being left by the retirement of fellow Trump critic (and Mormon) Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) as well as Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN).

Hatch’s office pushed back on both TPM’s and The Atlantic’s reports.

“He has not made a final decision yet.  If you have seen Sen. Hatch, he always stands straight and tall.  He isn’t ‘leaning’ one way or the other,” Hatch spokesman Dave Hansen told TPM in an email.

“Nothing has changed since The Atlantic published a carbon copy of this same story in April, likely with the same anonymous sources who were no more informed on the Senator’s thinking than they seem to be now,” he told The Atlantic. “Senator Hatch is focused on leading the Senate’s efforts to pass historic tax reform, confirming strong judges to courts around the country, and continuing to fight through the gridlock to deliver results for Utah. He has not made a final decision about whether or not to seek reelection, but plans to by the end of the year.”

This story was updated at 3:30 p.m. EST.

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TYSONS, VA. – President Trump bear-hugged Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie (R) Thursday morning — and Gillespie didn’t seem so thrilled about the embrace.

Shortly before Gillespie was due to appear in tony Northern Virginia alongside moderate, Hispanic New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez (R), Trump sent a pair of tweets praising the GOP candidate for being “strong on crime” and supporting Confederate statues.

But Gillespie wasn’t keen to return the love — or talk about his own campaign advertisements accusing Virginia Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) of being soft on crime and wanting to “take our statues down.” He didn’t mention Trump or his own ads once during the event, and refused to answer TPM’s questions about either as he bolted for the elevator afterwards, avoiding eye contact.

At Gillespie’s Thursday morning event he sounded like the pro-immigrant, business-minded Ed of yesteryear. He talked up economic expansion and tax cuts while eschewing the culture wars that long have fueled some other GOP campaigns and powered President Trump to the White House last fall.

His campaign literature distributed at the event highlighted that he was a “son of an immigrant,” in a diverse part of the state that’s trended hard towards Democrats in the past decade as people from other parts of the country and world (including New Jersey native Gillespie) have poured in for well-paying jobs.

“My focus and my policies are about creating jobs and raising take home pay and helping people lift themselves out of poverty, improving our public schools, easing traffic congestion, addressing this awful opioid and heroin epidemic and a lot of other policies that we’ve got to get in place during the course of the next governorship,” Gillespie said during the event with the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce. “We really have to get Virginia growing again.”

But his campaign this time around has been far different. Gillespie, who nearly lost his primary to a poorly funded Trump backer, has pivoted hard right on immigration and hammered Northam for his call to take down Confederate monuments around the state following the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the summer.

Gillespie’s ads have focused heavily on that and slamming Northam for supporting “sanctuary cities” and being “weak on MS-13,” a violent gang, even though no such cities exist in Virginia and Gillespie’s statehouse allies forced a show vote on the matter to get Northam on record on the issue.

The only allusions to those controversial themes came not from Gillespie, but Martinez.

“Safety is number one for Ed of every single person that lives in this state and so for that reason he feels that then allows for economic growth. If you don’t have public safety people don’t want to come to a place that’s not safe,” Martinez said before pivoting back to taxes.

Gillespie is walking a tightrope in the state. He badly needs huge turnout from more culturally conservative Trump backers to have a shot in Virginia. But the state has trended from red to swing to blue-leaning in the past decade, and his hard-hitting ads risk alienating moderate and suburban and urban voters in places like Tysons.

That helps explain that while Northam was happy to campaign with President Obama last week, Gillespie has so far declined to stump with Trump — even as he had Vice President Mike Pence (R) to the state.

Public polls have been all over the place in the race, but the consensus from public and private surveys is Northam has maintained a small lead in the race, the biggest campaign of 2017.

The election is less than two weeks away.

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Congressional Democrats are whipping their GOP counterparts in fundraising heading into the 2018 elections, a key sign that a wave election may be building.

In both the Senate and House, Democrats are pulling money hand-over-fist in many of their most important races, according to campaign finance reports recently filed with the Federal Election Commission. Many Republicans are struggling to keep up — including some key incumbents in both chambers.

That trend is causing heartburn for many Republicans, who worry their chances of losing the House are growing due to President Trump’s unpopularity and Republican voters’ frustration with their failure to pass major legislation.

“It’s a serious problem,” former National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Cole (R-OK) told TPM. “It’s a very rough cycle coming up. Nobody’s had a good off year since 2002 and anybody that thinks the majority is not at risk or that they can’t be beaten is kidding themselves.”

The chances they could lose the Senate too are looking less like an impossibility even though Democrats are defending many more vulnerable seats. Republican senators warn that they better get tax reform done to please their donors and base or face an even bleaker scenario following their failure to repeal Obamacare.

“There is a warning that comes from lack of fundraising success, and it indicates that your agenda or your lack of accomplishment is something people are deciding is a problem as they make a decision about contributing to a campaign,” former National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Jerry Moran (R-KS) told TPM. “The fact that the fundraising is what it is is certainly not a positive, but it doesn’t mean that it’s ultimately a problem. There’s time to recover from the circumstance of low numbers now.”

Nine of the 10 Democratic senators from states President Trump won raised more than $1 million in the last fundraising quarter, easily outpacing most of their rivals. All 10 have at least $3 million stashed away, and seven of them have more than $5 million cash on hand.

On the flip side, the few Senate Republicans who might face real challenges posted less-than impressive hauls. Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) was out-raised by his likely Democratic opponent, Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-NV). Sen. Jeff Flake’s (R-AZ) decision to retire came after he was out-raised by Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), who begins the Arizona Senate race with a big cash advantage over any of her likely opponents with $4.2 million in the bank.

Senate GOP challengers also struggled with fundraising. Only two Senate Republican candidates raised even half as much as the Democratic senator they’re hoping to take out next fall — Rep. Luke Messer (R-IN) and West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrissey (R). Like many other Republican Senate candidates, they’ll have to spend much of that money to win primaries.

Democrats even raised more than their GOP opponents in long-shot races. Democrat Doug Jones brought in more and had more money in the bank than former Judge Roy Moore (R) in Alabama ahead of their Dec. 12 special election, and Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) out-raised Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), though Cruz still has much more cash on hand.

Democrats aren’t counting their chickens yet — but they admit things seem to be going their way.

“This has been an amazing year. I’ve never seen anything like it,” Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), who raised $2.7 million and has $7.1 million in the bank, told TPM.

“Our members are putting themselves in a strong position and we’re really seeing an increase in grassroots support and fundraising, lots of small-dollar contributions, which is a sign of increased political energy around the country,” Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) told TPM. “If this becomes part of a larger wave that’d be great, but we’re not banking on a wave. … We’re feeling like things are going as well as they can politically for our senators.”

The House side is even more promising for Democrats in their uphill fight to win back a chamber of Congress next year.

More than 30 incumbent Republicans raised less money than their Democratic challengers from July through September — an occurrence that’s almost unheard of this early in the election cycle — including vulnerable members like Reps. John Culberson (R-TX), Mimi Walters (R-CA) and Steve Knight (R-CA).

Some incumbent Republicans in tough seats posted huge fundraising numbers — Reps. Barbara Comstock (R-VA), Martha McSally (R-AZ) and Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) all had solid hauls — and many of the top-performing Democrats are going to have to spend big chunks of their war chests to win primaries, draining resources.

“It will be fun watching Democratic candidates bleed their campaigns dry on futile a mission to bolster their progressive bona fides,” said NRCC spokesman Jesse Hunt.

But it’s clear whose side has the energy — and big early fundraising is often an early sign of a party’s success in future elections.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee also out-raised their GOP counterparts once again, a pattern that’s held for most of this year, though the DSCC and NRSC have about the same cash on hand and the NRCC has more in the bank than the DCCC.

One big exception to this pattern: The Republican National Committee is wiping the floor with the Democratic National Committee, a major concern for Democrats as they head into a crucial midterm year. The RNC has $44 million in the bank to the DNC’s paltry $7 million.

The DNC is still recovering from a longterm fracture driven by years of neglect, information exposed by the Russian hacks, and distrust between the Bernie Sanders, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton wings of the party. That could be a big problem heading forward. The RNC, in the meantime, is more closely affiliated with President Trump, who remains popular with the GOP base and helps the national party raise cash. Super-PAC spending also tends to favor Republicans.

Cole said that some members needed to wake up and realize they face tough reelection fights and that he expected GOP leaders to try to push them to get moving.

“I don’t have sympathy with people who don’t go raise money,” he said. “I expect there’ll be a lot of kicks in the rear going forward.”

This story was updated to correctly identify Rep. Steve Knight’s (R-CA) home state.

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Sen. Jeff Flake’s (R-AZ) shocking decision to retire is the latest blow to Republicans willing to stand up to President Donald Trump — and leaves the Senate reeling and the race to replace him in utter chaos.

Flake, the GOP’s loudest critic of the president, admitted he couldn’t win the Republican primary in an emotional speech on the Senate floor before warning his Republican colleagues that they were being “complicit” in allowing Trump’s “reckless, undignified and outrageous behavior” to continue.

But his decision to leave rather than stay and fight, coupled with the retirement of Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), another top Trump GOP critic, and Sen. John McCain’s (R-AZ) ongoing serious health problems, mean the Senate is likely to see a dwindling of Republicans willing to stand up to Trump after the 2018 elections — and it’s unclear whether it improves Democrats’ slim prospects of winning back Senate control next election.

The mood for many senators was one of shock and sorrow, almost as if a member had died, with members of both parties visibly upset at the news.

“It’s just tragic. Flake is a completely honest broker,” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) told TPM as he exited the Senate floor after Flake’s retirement speech. “When somebody who’s as good and decent a person as Jeff Flake does not feel like he can continue on it’s a very tragic day for the institution, and I felt the same way with the Corker announcement [last month]. … It’s a very depressing, very depressing day.”

“I’m surprised and I’m very saddened,” Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) told TPM.

Corker lamented Flake’s decision as well.

“Flake is one of the best people in the United States Senate, no question, and the Senate will be less well off without him,” he said, saying Flake stood up to the “demagogues” and for American values.

But with the pair gone and McCain’s future in the Senate uncertain, it’s not clear who will fill that role. Corker didn’t have an answer when a reporter asked him who will be left to stand up when the “people who stand up against the demagogues” head for the exits.

“I’ll answer that question later,” he said after a pause.

If a Republican wins the seat, it’s almost certain to be one that’s more friendly to the president than the antagonistic Flake. Unless Democrats win this race and pull off an upset in the race to replace Corker, the 2018 elections might end up further weakening the Senate as a brake on Trump’s worst impulses with the few principled Republicans heading for the exits. That’s true even if every one of the 10 Democratic incumbents in states Trump carried wins reelection next year.

Flake’s decision also throws the race for his seat into utter chaos. Flake had been trailing hardline conservative former state Sen. Kelli Ward (R) by huge margins in primary polls due to his ongoing war with Trump, and Republicans, including his own strategists, were greatly worried he’d either lose to a fatally flawed nominee or come out of the primary so wounded that he couldn’t defeat Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) in the general election.

National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Cory Gardner (R-CO) said Flake will be “severely missed.” And while he said Arizona was a “Republican state” that voted for Trump, he conceded the race would be “a focus” of his committee heading into 2018.

Arizona Republicans admit Flake’s decision scrambles the race, though they’re divided about whether it helps or hurts their chances to hold the seat. One said Flake was “pretty much doomed” in a head-to-head against Ward who strategists think would be a disaster as the nominee, and argued the move “gives us a better chance of holding the seat.”

But he said there’s no predicting what will happen now, with a number of politicians from former Gov. Jan Brewer (R) to Reps. Martha McSally (R-AZ), Trent Franks and Dave Schweikert (R-AZ) seriously eying bids of their own. Former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio isn’t ruling out a run of his own.

“It throws the whole thing upside down. The dominoes will be far and wide. I think you have potentially half of the congressional delegation jump in the race,” said the strategist. “It could be a very crowded field with a lot of big names. … This changes the trajectory entirely.”

While Republicans are likely to duke it out in a costly, possibly nasty August primary, Sinema is likely to have the field to herself — and time to build upon the $4.2 million war chest she already has.

Sinema refused to discuss the dynamics of the race, while calling Flake “a man of great integrity and great character” in a brief statement to reporters.

Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) told TPM it “helps” because “the struggle for control” between pro- and anti-Trump forces within the GOP is “only going to get more intense” in an open GOP primary.

But other Democrats aren’t so sure.

“It changes the dynamic and we’re going to have to wait until the scenario shakes out.” Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) told reporters Tuesday night. “Everything’s up in the air.”

Trump’s team and allies celebrated Flake’s decision. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said it was “probably a good move,” while former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon’s website was more blunt:

But they were about the only ones celebrating.

“These are times when we need Republican colleagues particularly who are willing to do the difficult things of standing up to a president who clearly is violating basic tenants of the Constitution every day,” Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) told TPM, saying she was concerned things would get worse and not better after the 2018 elections. “I’m worried about the country.”

This story was updated at 6:35 p.m.

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Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) will introduce a bill to close gun background check loopholes on Wednesday, less than four weeks after the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history in Las Vegas — even though he knows it has almost no chance to pass.

Murphy, a leading champion of gun law reform ever since the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre in his old congressional district, told TPM in an interview that the new bill is a way to try to “strike fear” into Republican lawmakers opposing popular gun reforms and the National Rifle Association, even if chances of passing it are “slim.”

“I wish it didn’t feel like Groundhog Day — but one day it won’t,” he told TPM, arguing that the tide of public pressure was beginning to turn against the NRA. “Our movement is getting stronger and stronger. By introducing this bill we give Republicans a choice: They can sign on, they can introduce an alternative, or they can stand on the sidelines… and make this an issue in their 2018 reelection

“There’s no great social change movement in this country that didn’t have failures before it had success,” he said. “Putting this bill in the hopper and using it as a pressure point for the movement is part of what grows our strength.”

The bill, which would make background checks nearly universal on commercial gun sales, is almost identical to a section of the gun control bill Democrats introduced that went nowhere last year. And it’s a more restrictive version than the bill introduced by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Pat Toomey (R-PA) that failed by a wide margin back in 2013 — when Democrats had control of the Senate and the White House.

Murphy admitted this legislation wouldn’t have stopped Las Vegas — but said the point was to stop future gun crime, not try to react every time a large-scale shooting spree hits the U.S.

“The NRA wants the anti-gun violence movement to only focus on the policy change that would have addressed the last shooting of victims numbering over 20. You cannot build a political movement if you change the issue you care about every three months and the gun industry knows that. That’s why the gun industry said after Sandy Hook, background checks wouldn’t have stopped the Sandy Hook murders,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is pass legislation that is prospective. I can’t pass anything that would reverse time and stop Las Vegas.”

But Murphy is convinced that things are starting to turn in favor of gun control, citing polling that 90 percent of Americans want to expand background checks, that three out of the four major statewide gun control referendums passed last year, and that the movement won all three Senate races it focused on last fall, in Pennsylvania, Nevada and New Hampshire. He also pointed to the NRA’s recent openness to a change in the rules to ban “bump stocks” that allowed the Las Vegas shooter to turn guns into automatic weapons during his murder spree that left 58 people dead and 546 injured.

“Just three weeks ago the gun lobby since the first time I’ve been in Congress suggested a willingness to change gun laws,” he told TPM. “The ground is shifting but you need legislation like this to rally people to the side of those who wants change and against those who don’t want change.”

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Alabama GOP Senate nominee Roy Moore said late last year that the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing gay marriage was “even worse” than the notorious 1857 Dred Scott ruling that upheld slavery.

Moore, a hard-right former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice, has twice been removed from office for refusing to follow the rule of law — the second time for ordering probate judges in his state to disobey the U.S. Supreme Court’s Obergefell ruling legalizing gay marriage. Last November he said that decision was even worse than one that scholars widely consider the worst Supreme Court decision in U.S. history.

“In 1857 the United States Supreme Court did rule that black people were property. Of course that contradicted the Constitution, and it took a civil war to overturn it. But this ruling in Obergefell is even worse in a sense because it forces not only people to recognize marriage other than the institution ordained of God and recognized by nearly every state in the union, it says that you now must do away with the definition of marriage and make it between two persons of the same gender or leading on, as one of the dissenting justices said, to polygamy, to multi-partner marriages,” Moore said  in a podcast interview last November, shortly after he was suspended without pay from the court.

“We’ve got to go back and recognize that what they did in Obergefell was not only to take and create a right that does not exist under the Constitution but then to mandate that that right compels Christians to give up their religious freedom and liberty,” he continued.

In Dred Scott the court denied citizenship to African Americans and found the Missouri Compromise unconstitutional, triggering a backlash that helped lead to the Civil War.

Moore’s comments were made in an interview with Here I Stand, a podcast run by the religious conservative Christian Emergency League, and shared with TPM by the Democratic group American Bridge.

Moore wasn’t the only one on the religious right who compared Obergefell to Dred Scott. It became a talking point from Christian conservatives like Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum two years ago. But Moore clearly went a step further by saying the decision was worse, not just listing it as another decision from the court he thought was terrible.

Moore’s remark isn’t the only time he’s waded into murky racial waters in his political and judicial career. As TPM has reported, Moore successfully led the charge against removing segregationist language from the Alabama state constitution, his biggest backer is a neo-Confederate who wants the South to secede again, and Moore’s Foundation for Moral Law hosted the neo-Confederate, pro-secession League of the South’s annual “Secession Day” events in 2009 and 2010, though Moore’s staff claim he didn’t know about the events.

He’s also continued to question whether President Obama was born in the U.S., and his campaign has recently shared racially charged memes during this Senate run.

“The Dred Scott decision ranks as the worst Supreme Court decision in American history and it’s appalling that Moore doesn’t understand that, though sadly not surprising considering his history of embracing white supremacists and pro-Confederate groups,”  American Bridge spokesperson Allison Teixeira Sulier told TPM. “Roy Moore is not fit to serve in any capacity, and his hateful views are un-American.”

Moore’s campaign declined to respond to requests for comment or clarification about his remarks.

In spite of his controversies, Moore remains the favorite against former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones ahead of the Dec. 12 election to fill Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ old Senate seat. He hass held a lead in the mid- to high-single digits in most public and private polling of the race.

The full interview can be heard here.

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Former Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-TN) has jumped into the race to replace retiring Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), setting up a likely race to the right against Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) that could benefit Democrats.

“We’re going to get in this race, and we’re going to get in it to win it, and go up there and try to get something done,” Fincher told The Tennesseean. “Let’s stand up with the president on his policies.”

The race has the potential to get nasty — and potentially give Democrats an opening in a solidly Republican state, especially if former Gov. Phil Bredesen (D) decides to run, which he’s considering. Attorney and Iraq War veteran James Mackler is Democrats’ current front-runner for the nomination.

In his opening interview as a candidate, Fincher hit Blackburn for helping push through a bill that hamstrung the Drug Enforcement Agency’s ability to crack down on bad actor pharmaceutical companies in a state where the opioid crisis has been especially severe.

“This is an issue that shows Tennesseans want someone to stand up against special interests,” he said. “We’re losing lives. Our jails, little towns and communities are broken. People, they go to Washington, and have stayed up there too long and are out of touch with what’s really happening all over this great state.”

Fincher, a gospel singer and seventh-generation farmer, was a political neophyte when he won his House seat in the 2010 GOP wave. He served three terms before retiring from the House at the end of last term.

It’s unclear whether Fincher will be able to raise the money to compete against the deep-pocketed Blackburn, who already has locked in an endorsement from former White House chief adviser Steve Bannon. But the race has a chance to become a hard-fought one — a result that could crack the door for Democrats.

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