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

Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) pushed back hard on the idea that keeping border-crossing children in chain-link cages was inhumane, defending the practice in two local radio shows on Wednesday.

Cramer, who’s running against Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) in a top-tier Senate race, called the facilities “humane” during a Wednesday appearance on KTGO, a local radio station that broadcasts in the Bakken Oil Fields.

“By the way, chain link fences are around playgrounds all over America, all over North Dakota. And chain link fences allow line-of-sight visual connectivity with children and families,” he said as he discussed reversing President Trump’s policy to let families stay together at the border. “You know, there’s nothing inhumane about a chain link fence. If it is, then every ballpark in America is inhumane.”

Cramer then went on to say he supported changing the law to allow families to stay together when they enter the country illegally, and supported House Republicans’ dueling pieces of immigration legislation that are expected to receive a vote this week that would address this issue.

The comments came before Trump announced he’d reverse his recently implemented strategy of separating children and parents at the border with an executive order, reversing his previously held false position that only Congress could act to stop it.

Cramer doubled down on his comments when asked about them later in the day on WDAY, another local radio station, calling the focus on the cages “hoopla.”

“I think [chain] linked fences is irrelevant to the crying of children. My commentary is on the chain-link fence,” he said when asked about the comments and whether he’d heard the audio of children wailing after being separated from their parents. “There’s all this hoopla, because I think there are people on the left that clearly want the country to fail at this. And they would like the chain-link fence, they called it ‘dog cages.’ Well, chain-link fences have been used to protect children from predators on playgrounds, baseball diamonds, all sorts of sports courts and what-not. To me it’s not the chain-link fence, that’s not the issue. That’s a ruse by some on the left to try to create an image that’s far worse in description than it is in reality,” he said.

“The actual value of the chain-link fence is you could see through it, that’s the value of the chain link. If they put up a sheet rock wall between the children and the workers, the people there to protect them, to me that would be far worse,” Cramer continued. “The chain link fence, let’s not use that as some sort of a weapon. There’s a broader conversation about the separation of families in general, but as I’ve said before, that happens throughout the country many times. Kris [his wife] and I have been foster parents. We know all about the separation of children from their parents who do the illegal things, it happens in every city of the country every day.”

Senate Republicans initially had opposed having Cramer, a close ally of Trump’s, as their candidate for Senate precisely because of his penchant for controversial comments. After failing to find a better alternative they circled back to him. Cramer initially said he wouldn’t run, but changed his mind after Trump pushed him to jump into the race.

Cramer has since stirred up some controversies, including comments that Trump wasn’t campaigning as hard against Heitkamp as some other vulnerable Senate Democrats because “she’s a woman,” and sought and received an endorsement from a virulently anti-gay group that compares transgender people to pedophiles.

This is the latest instance of a remark that may generate some backlash.

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Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is planning to spend $80 million in the upcoming midterm elections, with most of it aimed at helping Democrats seize control of the House, a massive investment that could reshape the House battlefield this fall.

That type of investment from Bloomberg, a political independent who has long supported candidates of both parties, could put Democrats in a position to have spending parity with Republicans for the first time since the advent of super PACs nearly a decade ago.

That money, which a Bloomberg adviser confirmed to TPM, will help them compete with huge funds from GOP billionaires like the Koch Brothers and Sheldon Adelson, who has pledged $30 million to bolster House Republicans.

Bloomberg has gotten increasingly involved in national campaigns in recent years, but has backed candidates in both parties who agree with him on gun control, helping reelect Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Maggie Hassan (D-NH) in 2016. He endorsed Hillary Clinton in 2016.

And while Bloomberg said he plans to support some GOP gubernatorial candidates, this massive investment is as partisan as he’s been since he left the GOP more than a decade ago — driven by what he sees is an “absolutely feckless” attitude towards Trump from House GOP leadership.

“Republicans in Congress have had almost two years to prove they could govern responsibly. They failed. As we approach the 2018 midterms, it’s critical that we elect people who will lead in ways that this Congress won’t – both by seeking to legislate in a bipartisan way, and by upholding the checks and balances that the Founding Fathers set up to safeguard ethics, prevent the abuse of power, and preserve the rule of law,” Bloomberg said in a statement. “And so this fall, I’m going to support Democrats in their efforts to win control of the House.”

The New York Times first reported the investment.

Bloomberg plans to mostly target suburban House races where his vocal gun rights support and New York City links won’t backfire on the candidates he’s supporting — the type of expensive districts in major media markets that House Democrats have been outspent in recent cycles.

Democrats have at least a 50-50 shot at retaking the House, according to strategists in both parties. This major investment could further bolster their prospects.

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Hello again, readers! Prime member Dave Ricksicker’s third question in his series (first here, second here) was on Mississippi, which I always spell correctly even as I struggle with Pennsylvania. Keep the questions coming! Here’s what he wants to know:

3) Is there any chance [of a Democratic victory] in Mississippi Special?

There’s a chance — but not a great one, especially if the race proves to be the deciding factor for Senate control.

Democrats landed a strong candidate in former U.S. Agriculture Commissioner Mike Espy (D), who was the first black congressman from Mississippi since reconstruction. And establishment Republicans’ most-hated candidate, former state Sen. Chris McDaniel (R), has a real opening against appointed Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) given her recent past as a Democrat.

If McDaniel beats Hyde-Smith in the race’s all-party November election and faces Espy in the general election runoff a month later, Democrats have some hopes they can win the state given how toxic McDaniel is with the state’s huge population of African Americans and its few moderate voters.

But that’s a big if: Early polls suggest Hyde-Smith starts out with a big lead over McDaniel.

Even if McDaniel does manage to sneak by her, the runoff would occur after November. That means the election could be the pivotal one to decide Senate control, which would instantly nationalize the race, making it much more about which party controls the Senate rather than which candidate voters would prefer. Democrats admit that makes it even harder to win in the heavily Republican, deeply racially polarized state.

Remember, Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) barely won his race against Roy Moore even with all of Moore’s horrific political baggage. While Mississippi is slightly less Republican and has a much larger percentage of African Americans than Alabama, its white voters are even less likely to be willing to back Democrats for federal office. Never say never — Jones is senator — but a Sen. Espy is highly unlikely to happen.



Have a question about the 2018 midterms you’d like our senior political correspondent Cameron Joseph to answer? Send it our way through email, or post it in the Hive.

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President Trump visited Capitol Hill on Tuesday to meet with anxious Republicans who hoped he’d help them put out the firestorm he started with his decision to separate parents and children. Instead, he delivered a vintage meandering and bullying speech that offered little concrete guidance to desperate House Republicans about what to do on immigration.

Trump spent 45 minutes ranting to House Republicans on everything from taxes to his pending lawsuits Tuesday evening, according to members in the meeting, while offering barely any info about whether he’d support the specifics of a pair of bills that closely follow the President’s own policy goals on immigration.

The President did not specifically endorse compromise legislation crafted by Republicans in the House or spend much time laying out his directives on what he needs to end his self-created crisis of family separation at the U.S.-Mexico border. Instead, he delivered a rambling and, according to some members, barely coherent tirade that was short on specifics, even as he said he was “one thousand percent” behind the House GOP efforts on immigration.

“He said a lot of things. He said he supported the bill, I guess. It was very rambling, he talked about everything from the lawsuit to tax bills,” said Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC). “It was kind of hard to follow everything he says — it was like a bouncing ball.”

The president even took aim at Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC), who just lost a primary largely due to his past criticism of the president. After asking if Sanford was in the room, according to multiple members, Trump called him “nasty.”

“He was very ugly,” said Jones.

Republican members have been whipsawed by the President’s latest tantrum-driven policies on immigration and were hoping he’d give them more specific policy guidance — especially those facing tough re-election who are panicked at the backlash against his newfound policy of tearing children from their asylum-seeking parents. Yet the classic rambling stem-winder delivered by Trump left members grasping for a clear sense of whether he supports both of the GOP immigration bills they plan to vote on later this week.

“No. He did say he supported ‘the bill.’ He just doesn’t — he’s not specific, you know, he does things his own way,” retiring Rep. Ryan Costello (R-PA) said with a laugh when TPM asked if he’d explicitly endorsed the compromise bill hammered out by House GOP moderates and conservatives.

That left members grasping for a happy message of unity afterwards — especially since Trump has been known to change his mind and publicly attack congressional Republicans over legislation.

“He alluded to both [bills] at the beginning. But it was unambiguous, his support was we need to move this compromise bill,” Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX) said.

“We finally have a president willing to work with Congress to solve this, and that’s what this bill does,” said House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) said.

House Republicans, like those in the Senate, say they’re hoping to end the policy of tearing apart families — “It is not good for anyone when children get separated from their parents,” moderate Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) said.

One of the bills offers an eventual pathway to citizenship for the approximately 1.8 million undocumented immigrants brought here as children, and House Republicans are trying to hammer out legislative language to end Trump’s current policy of separating families. The second, more conservative bill, is much more onerous for immigrants who want to stay legally in the U.S.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), a leading pro-immigration Republican, told TPM that House members were “still massaging” the legislative language to end family separation.

The White House claimed that Trump offered his clear support of their plans.

“The President spoke to the House Republican conference on a range of issues. In his remarks, he endorsed both House immigration bills that build the wall, close legal loopholes, cancel the visa lottery, curb chain migration, and solve the border crisis and family separation issue by allowing for family detention and removal. He told the members, ‘I’m with you 100 percent,'” White House Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah said.

But he wasn’t that clear. And that isn’t a good sign for what Diaz-Balart called the “last shot” for Congress to improve the current immigration system before this fall’s elections.

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Hey there, readers! Today I’m answering the second in a trio of questions sent in by reader Dave Ricksicker, dealing with some of the more overlooked Senate races: New Jersey, Tennessee, Texas and Mississippi. You can read the first here.

Dave asks:

2) Who has a better shot, Bredesen in Tenn. or Beto in TX? 

Things could change, but right now I’d much rather be former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen (D) than Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) — and so would every Democratic strategist I’ve talked to this year.

For starters, while both states are incredibly tough for Democrats, Bredesen has shown he can win in Tennessee. On the other hand, as evidenced by his surprisingly weak primary showing, O’Rourke has a ton of work to do to introduce himself around the massive (and massively expensive) state of Texas.

On top of that, the polls show that Bredesen is clearly better-positioned right now. He’s led in all public polling of the race, albeit by narrow margins, against Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN). O’Rourke has trailed Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) in every reputable public poll — including by a double-digit margin in the most recent one.

Finally, while Cruz is a deeply polarizing figure (and has some work to do both to woo back President Trump’s loyalists and to convince the state’s moderate Republicans to back him), he’s a battle-tested nationally vetted candidate who is careful on the stump and unlikely to make major unforced errors. Blackburn, on the other hand, has never had a serious spotlight shown on her, and has a penchant for making wild comments.

Democrats are very bullish about Bredesen. One top Senate Democratic staffer even told me recently that he felt better about Bredesen chances than the party’s hopes in Arizona, where the consensus is a tossup race to replace retiring Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ). The party is already reserving ad time in Tennessee for the fall, while they haven’t plunked down a dime on the Lone Star State. Republicans agree — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) listed Tennessee as one of the nine that will determine Senate control, while declining to mention Texas. It doesn’t help that Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) has heaped praise on Bredesen while tepidly endorsing Blackburn.

On top of that, judging from polling and early results, it looks like Hispanic voters aren’t as engaged to turn out as other parts of the Democratic coalition, making a state like Texas harder to flip.

O’Rourke is raising massive campaign cash and will be able to force Cruz to run a real race, and Bredesen could prove to be a paper tiger past his prime like former Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN) was last election cycle. Tennessee is also trending Republicans’ way, while Texas is trending (slowly, especially during non-presidential years) towards Democrats. Things could always change. But right now Democrats see Bredesen as a key part of their battle for the Senate — and O’Rourke as a nice candidate to have to force Cruz to spend money.



Have a question about the 2018 midterms you’d like our senior political correspondent Cameron Joseph to answer? Send it our way through email, or post it in the Hive.

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The top Republican on the House subcommittee responsible for funding the Department of Homeland Security demanded that the Trump administration end its forced separation of parents and children at the U.S. border, going further than many of his congressional colleagues in his demands.

Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-KS), the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee’s subcommittee on Homeland Security, sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions calling for him to end the controversial policy.

“I ask that you take immediate action to end the practice of separating children from families at the border,” Yoder says in the letter. “Separating children from their parents should not be used as a deterrent.”

The letter is the latest but far from the only plea from congressional Republicans for President Trump and his administration to end this policy, which by the Department of Homeland Security’s own numbers say have separated 2,000 families in recent weeks.

But while Yoder highlights areas of agreement with Trump about other immigration concerns, his language is less mealy-mouthed blaming both sides than other rank-and-file Republicans’ (like this from Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R)).

The letter comes just hours after a Quinnipiac University poll found that fully 66 percent of voters oppose the policy, with just 27 percent in favor, though a majority of Republicans supported the policy in the survey.

Notably, Yoder is facing a tough reelection fight in his swingy suburban Kansas City district.

And he’s not the only campaign-minded Republican who bucked Trump on the policy Monday: National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Steve Stivers (R-OH) also called on the administration to “stop needlessly separating” families on Thursday:

Trump’s deeply controversial plan has earned criticism from other Republicans as well — but most of the elected officials until Monday afternoon had been the Republicans who’d already shown a willingness to criticize Trump in the past, like Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Ben Sasse (R-NE) and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), or those out of office, like former First Lady Laura Bush.

That’s begun to change, as Yoder’s letter indicates. And others are beginning to split off as well, like Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), another member facing a tough reelection fight, who called the policy “ugly and inhumane” in a statement. And even some rank-and-file Republicans who aren’t facing a tough reelection began to speak out:

While DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen continued to falsely insist the new policy was not new policy on Monday afternoon, Republicans increasingly sounded increasingly skeptical of her misleading claims.

It remains to be seen whether enough Republicans break with the administration to actually force change, however, as they don’t yet appear to have a serious legislative response even as they ready a House vote on other immigration measures later this week.

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The scandal that forced former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens (R) from office did some collateral damage to Republicans’ hopes of flipping a key Senate seat, according to a new survey conducted for Democrats’ main Senate super PAC.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) leads Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley (R) by 47 percent to 41 percent in the poll, conducted by the Global Strategy Group and released by Senate Majority PAC. That’s up from a 46 percent to 44 percent lead in April, when the Greitens affair was just starting to boil over.

In the poll, McCaskill’s job favorability numbers have held steady, with slightly more voters approving than disapproving of her. But Hawley’s have slipped. In April, 30 percent of voters approved to 22 percent who disapproved. Now those have reversed, with 21 percent of voters approving and 29 percent disapproving.

It appears that’s mostly a factor of Greitens’ implosion. In mid-April, he was at 39 percent approval and 44 percent disapproval. By mid-June, weeks after he was forced to resign, he had sunk to 24 percent approval and 56 percent disapproval.

Hawley is caught in a bit of a vice on this issue. Democrats slam him for failing to investigate Greitens’ use of lists from his private charity to boost his gubernatorial campaign until he was under glaring scrutiny for his messy sex scandal, while Greitens’ core supporters are furious at Hawley for abandoning the governor during the scandal and contributing to his being forced from office.

The scandal figures to be a major factor in one of the Senate’s top Senate races, as McCaskill tries to once again pull a rabbit out of her hat in the Republican-leaning state.

Global Strategy Group’s live-caller survey of 804 likely Missouri midterm voters was conducted from June 11-13 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

Partisan polls should always be taken with a grain of salt. These numbers still show a tight race, and there’s a good chance Hawley will be able to move past this issue as it fades from the headlines. But right now it appears that she has an edge heading into the home stretch of the campaign.

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Hey there, readers! Thanks for all the great questions. This week, I’m going to bite off a trio of them that reader Dave Ricksicker sent in on some of the more overlooked Senate races: New Jersey, Tennessee, Texas and Mississippi. I’ll take them in the order he sent them. We’ll publish the first today, and tackle the rest in the coming days. This “Campaign Mailbag” series is usually only available to Prime members, but we’re making this one free for everyone. If you want more, subscribe! And thanks again to all those who already do.

Here’s Dave’s first question:

1) How worried should we be about Menendez in NJ?

Sen. Bob Menendez’s (D-NJ) surprisingly weak showing against a no-name candidate in his June 5 Senate primary, in which he barely topped 60 percent of the vote, alarmed some Democrats.

I wrote last August about how worried his party was that Menendez’s corruption trial could put his seat at risk. Since then, he got off on a mistrial because of a Supreme Court ruling that made it virtually impossible to prosecute pay-to-play allegations, while Jersey’s powerful Democratic machine made sure he didn’t face real primary opposition. But it’s clear from his primary results that a good chunk of the state’s Democratic base isn’t happy with him after he was “severely admonished” by the Senate Ethics Committee. And his GOP opponent, pharmaceutical company executive Bob Hugin, can self-fund — he’s already given his own campaign $7.5 million.

That said, we’re talking about Democratic-leaning New Jersey in a year that’s shaping up to be a very good one for Democrats, especially in suburban areas. And while there’s been scant polling of the race, the two reputable public surveys that have been conducted this year found Menendez with 17- and 21-point leads.

So, no, it doesn’t look like Menendez is likely to lose.

The bigger concerns for Democrats are whether they’ll be forced to spend more than usual on his behalf in an expensive state, and what the down-ticket effect of his race might be. Menendez has $5.6 million in the bank, not an overwhelming amount in a state whose two major media markets are the uber-expensive New York City and Philadelphia, but enough to keep him from being a complete drag on the party should the race get expensive. That’d be a repeat of his 2006 race, when he was beset by scandal in a good Democratic year and won by a comfortable nine points — but only after national Democrats were forced to spend to defend him.

If Menendez proves to be a bit of a drag on the rest of the Democratic ticket, that could be a huge problem for some key House races. Democrats are defending one vulnerable incumbent in the state, banking on flipping two open seats in their quest to win House control, and hopeful they can turn two more blue.

That’s it for now, readers! For you Prime members, here are the other questions from Dave I’ll be answering soon:

2) Who has a better shot, Bredesen in Tenn. or Beto in TX? 

3) Is there any chance [of a Democratic victory] in Mississippi Special?



Have a question about the 2018 midterms you’d like our senior political correspondent Cameron Joseph to answer? Send it our way through email, or post it in the Hive.

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A new immigration bill crafted by GOP leadership would bar the Trump administration’s current forced separation of parents and children who cross the U.S.-Mexico border and give legal status to undocumented immigrants brought here as children in exchange for a big down payment on Trump’s proposed border wall.

The bill, whose contours were shared with rank-and-file Republicans on Thursday, would let most of the 1.8 million DREAMERs remain in the U.S. and work legally on six-year renewable visas, with an eventual path to citizenship.

It would also provide $25 billion for border security measures including funding for Trump’s long-demanded border wall.

And it would bar the administration’s highly controversial and cruel separation of asylum-seeking parents from their children when they cross the U.S. border that the Trump administration began in recent weeks.

The deal was struck after moderate Republicans came up just short of forcing a vote on a clean DREAM Act, partnering with Democrats, and is largely based on the “four pillars” of immigration reform the White House has demanded be included. And it tilts closer to conservatives’ vision of how the law should be than what moderates had initially wanted.

The bill would also restructure the current visa system to emphasize education and employment over family reunification and diversity, priorities long pushed by conservatives and championed by Trump.

The House is scheduled to vote on this bill next week, along with a more conservative one authored by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA).

It’s unclear if this bill can even pass the House, since most Democrats will likely oppose it, let alone get Senate approval and support from the White House. But it’s the closest that Congress has come to actually acting to help DREAMers after Trump moved to end President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program more than a year ago.

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In more than two decades of politics and in spite of one of the great sex scandals in political history, Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC) had never lost an election — until Tuesday.

The congressman, former governor and one-time presidential aspirant was toppled by a little-known state lawmaker who slammed him for his repeated criticism of President Trump, the latest sign that the most dangerous thing to do in the modern GOP is dare to take on the president.

South Carolina state Rep. Katie Arrington (R) led Sanford by 51 percent to 47 percent with 99 percent of precincts reporting when the Associated Press officially called the race shortly after midnight EST Wednesday morning.

“Based on the numbers I see, I think I’ll end up losing this election,” Sanford told supporters Tuesday night, before the race was officially called.

The results come after Arrington repeatedly attacked Sanford for opposing Trump. The iconoclastic congressman, a fiscally conservative purist and member of the House Freedom Caucus, had mocked Trump for his lack of a grasp of the U.S. Constitution late in the GOP primary and demanded late in the presidential race that Trump release his tax returns. He was one of the few Republicans to keep criticizing Trump after he became president, though he’d toned that down significantly as his reelection fight loomed.

Those apostasies came back to haunt Sanford, even though Arrington was also a vocal Trump critic during the 2016 GOP primary.

Trump made a last-minute endorsement against Sanford on Tuesday, the first time he’s endorsed against a sitting House member. While that tweet likely didn’t do much by itself, as it came just three hours before polls closed and after many had already voted, it’s clear that the man who made it through “hiking the Appalachian Trail” had finally been undone because he took on his party’s president.

Sanford’s loss makes him the latest Republican to be forced from office for his lack of fealty to Trump. Sens. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Bob Corker (R-TN) are also heading for the exits largely because GOP base voters abandoned them after their criticisms of the president, and Rep. Martha Roby (R-AL) was just forced into a primary runoff last week because she refused to back him in 2016. On the flip side, Trump acolytes continue to win primaries — including Corey Stewart, an anti-immigration hardliner and Confederate monuments defender who won his primary to face Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) Tuesday night.

Sanford recognized his primary danger and fought hard to beat back his challenger, spending heavily on TV ads highlighting the areas where he agreed with Trump. But the famously frugal congressman only matched her roughly $400,000 on campaign spending, and ends his time in office with roughly $1.5 million in his campaign coffers that could have been put to use to save himself.

This isn’t Sanford’s first political setback.

He had been a rising star in the GOP in 2009 with an eye on the White House when his aides told reporters he was missing because he was hiking the Appalachian Trail — only for him to get caught instead returning from Argentina, where he had been visiting his mistress.

That scandal forced him to resign from office and ended his presidential aspirations. But he made a miraculous comeback in 2013, winning an open House seat anchored in his hometown of Charleston even after the national GOP abandoned him in that race after his ex-wife accused him of repeatedly trespassing at her home.

Sanford had faced primary challenges since, but seemed relatively secure in his seat. But after overcoming all his other problems, he couldn’t survive Trump.

Sanford’s seat is the second-least Republican in the state — Trump won it by 13 points — and Democrats see an outside chance at competing there this fall. They nominated engineer and attorney Joe Cunningham for the race on Tuesday.

This post was updated at 12:15 a.m. EST.

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