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.
Democrats on Tuesday pulled off another surprising special election upset, this time capturing a Missouri statehouse seat in a deep-red district that President Donald Trump easily carried in 2016.
Democratic candidate Mike Revis defeated GOP nominee David Linton on Tuesday night by a 4-point margin in a seat Trump carried with 61 percent of the vote just over a year ago, and which former President Barack Obama lost by 12 points in 2012. That’s a major swing — and the latest time Democrats have vastly over-performed their previous numbers this year as they look toward a potential wave election in the fall.
“Representative-elect Mike Revis’s victory tonight will undoubtedly send another shockwave through the GOP as we continue to run the best candidates focused on addressing local issues and improving their neighbors’ quality of life,” Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee head Jessica Post said in a statement.
Democrats have now picked up 35 state legislative seats across the country in special elections, while Republicans have picked up just four since Trump took office. This is the latest deep-red seat that Democrats have flipped and, like the party’s recent victory in a Wisconsin state senate election, indicates how revved up the Democratic base is.
There will undoubtedly be higher overall voter turnout in the 2018 general election, making it harder for progressive base enthusiasm alone to power a major wave. But this win, as well as Democrats’ improved numbers in a trio of other Missouri special elections they lost Tuesday night in heavily Republican areas, are the latest signs that white-hot liberal enthusiasm is creating new opportunities across the country for Democratic candidates, even in areas that have moved hard against their party in recent years.
That’s good news for Democrats across the country — including those staring down tough reelection fights, like Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO).
President Trump and congressional Republicans have been on a bit of a hot streak as of late.
Their successfully passed tax cuts seem to have boosted them with Republican-leaning voters. They won the messaging war on the first round of government shutdown, largely because Trump stayed out of view during the fight. Trump managed to get through his State of the Union speech with at least as much coverage about Democrats’ refusal to applaud as his sometimes-divisive message.
That series of good breaks has helped Trump and congressional Republicans’ poll numbers tick up from abysmal to merely lousy, and boosted their hopes that the 2018 election might not be nearly as bad as many have feared. Trump’s approval rating has crept back up above 40 percent in some recent surveys for the first time in months, and Democrats’ lead has shrunk to the mid-single digits in many recent generic congressional polls, possibly not enough for them to win the House.
But in the last 24 hours, Trump made two new major gaffes that once again show his utter inability to stick with message discipline — and hint at how short-lived the Republican rally might prove to be.
On Monday, Trump accused Democrats of “treason” for refusing to applaud his State of the Union speech. On Tuesday, he threatened to shut down the government if Democrats don’t accede to his demands to drastically cut legal immigration in exchange for protections for DACA recipients.
Reporters didn’t even have to leave the room to get a view of how well that would play with vulnerable Republicans: Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA), at the White House for an event about MS-13 gang violence, took the opportunity to publicly rebuke the president over his remarks.
“We don’t need a government shutdown on this,” Comstock told him with the cameras present.
It was a smart move: Her suburban Northern Virginia district has a huge number of federal employees, and a large number of immigrants who voted for Hillary Clinton last presidential election.
But that wasn’t enough to dissuade Trump, who interrupted her reiterate his shutdown threat.
“You can say what you want. We are not getting support of the Democrats,” he replied.
Trump doubled down minutes later.
“I would shut it down over this issue. I can’t speak for everybody at the table but I will tell you, I would shut it down over this issue. If we don’t straighten out our border, we don’t have a country,” he told reporters. “Without borders we don’t have a country. So would I would shut it down over this issue? Yes. I can’t speak for our great representatives here but I have a feeling they may agree with me.”
Comstock’s comments are great fodder for her argument that she’ll break with Trump and stand up for her voters, and will likely give her a personal boost in 2018. But the president will continue to dominate the election landscape, and other GOP lawmakers aren’t going to be nearly as lucky as to be in the room to call Trump out when he says things that will hurt their reelection chances.
Trump has mostly managed to stay out of his own way and stick to the script in the last few weeks, and that’s helped his party recover with independent voters. But his off-script moments regularly remind swing voters why many don’t like him while further infuriating Democrats, driving their election enthusiasm ever-higher. After a surprisingly disciplined stretch it appears he’s returning to his old ways once again — and that should alarm Republicans already facing a tough election map.
Mississippi state Sen. Chris McDaniel (R) recently joined the radio show of an ardent conspiracy theorist who believes the 9/11 attacks may have been carried out by the “World Zionist Organization,” a curious choice for a man gearing up for another possible Senate run.
The controversial lawmaker is seriously considering a run against Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) this year after losing a close and nasty race to Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) in 2014.
McDaniel still maintains that election was stolen from him, and appeared as a high-profile guest on internet radio host and conspiracy theorist Ian Trottier’s show to help his longtime friend and ally Ryan Walters promote his book “Remember Mississippi,” which makes the same argument.
Before McDaniel and Walters joined last week’s show, Trottier talked up the views of his previous week’s guest — Christopher Bollyn, a man who argues that the 9/11 attacks were carried out by an international Jewish conspiracy and has been labeled an anti-Semite by both the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center.
“Look, whether he’s accurate or not regarding the World Zionist Organization, the likelihood that they have at least a hand in what may have transpired on Sept. 11, 2001 is extremely high,” Trottier said. “I don’t know if that attack was a hoax. I don’t know if the research that he has done is accurate. But when you listen to him speak it sure as heck makes sense and it sounds like he’s right on a trail that leads right back to understanding exactly what happened. Because it’s becoming ever so common that taking the whole Bin Laden angle just doesn’t make any sense.”
The full show can be heard here:
That’s far from Trottier’s only conspiracy theory — he also touts JFK assassination plots, international banking conspiracies and claims that childhood vaccines cause autism. But last week, he mostly focused on another claim: That the 2014 GOP primary was illegally rigged.
“We fought, we ran, we feel like we won, obviously, and but for 40,000 Democrats that moved into the primary we would have won,” McDaniel told Trottier.
Walters said Democrats were “bribed” to vote in the runoff.
McDaniel finished in first place in the initial primary, but didn’t win a majority of votes, triggering a runoff. In that race, Cochran’s allies helped turn out enough establishment Republicans and Democrats to turn the tide, grinding out a 7,700-vote victory. McDaniel went to court to have that overturned, arguing that the Democrats had voted illegally. But the Mississippi Supreme Court threw out his case after he failed to file it on time.
Experts said then that there was little evidence of McDaniel’s claim of 15,000 fraudulent votes, and that his argument that Democrats were barred from voting in a GOP primary was simply wrong: It was legal for Democrats to vote in the GOP primary in the state if they didn’t vote in the Democratic primary in the first round.
That 2014 primary campaign had some of the shadiest acts in recent political history. A local tea party leader and McDaniel backer broke into Cochran’s wife’s nursing home to photograph her in an attempt to prove he was cheating on her with another woman. McDaniel claims to this day he had nothing to do with it. Another McDaniel backer allegedly involved in the break-in scheme later committed suicide while awaiting trial. Shadowy outside groups blasted McDaniel as a racist tied to the Ku Klux Klan in the race’s closing days, spurring African Americans to head to the polls against him.
“They trashed Chris as a racist, a bigot, somebody who was friends with the Ku Klux Klan,” Walters lamented to Trottier last week.
Their discussion mostly focused on Mississippi, with McDaniel and Walters largely ignoring Trottier’s tangents.
Both interviewees told TPM they had no idea about Trottier’s views when they went on the air.
“I’m not into the conspiracy stuff, and didn’t know the host was pushing any of it. I briefly joined the program as a favor to a friend and campaign volunteer who was working to sell his book,” McDaniel said in a text message.
“A friend connected me to the show, which I had never heard of, in order to help me publicize my book, and it was a last minute arrangement that all happened right at airtime,” Walters said in an email. “Had I known the host was pushing these types of conspiracy theories I wouldn’t have joined the program or called Chris to get on air. And I certainly do not agree with the 9/11 Truthers or those that believe in any Jewish conspiracy.”
But Walters’ claim that the interview was scheduled at the last minute doesn’t seem to hold up. Trottier plugged the scheduled interview in his previous threeweekly shows, meaning the interview was apparently on the books for at least three weeks.
When TPM pointed out that Trottier had been talking up the scheduled interview for weeks, Walters admitted that he’d committed earlier but said McDaniel never did — which he said is why McDaniel joined at the end of the show after Walters had been on for a while. He refused to say who had connected him to Trottier.
“It was scheduled by a friend (I’m not giving out that name without their permission) a few weeks in advance for both of us but Chris had never confirmed anything because of his heavy work load. That’s why he wasn’t on most of the program. He’s busy with the state senate session. I just tried to get him on the program toward the end at the last minute in the hopes he was available,” he said in an email late Thursday night.
McDaniel didn’t answer directly when asked if he would have done the program if he had known about Trottier’s views.
“I’ve never heard the program. I have no idea what positions they hold,” McDaniel said.
He didn’t respond when TPM asked again in a follow-up text message, or explain when he’d agreed to do the program. Trottier didn’t respond to an interview request.
McDaniel, an attorney and former radio host, has a long history of controversial statements on race and gender. He made headlines last year for attacking the women’s march, claiming that “almost all liberal women are unhappy.” In older comments McDaniel blamed hip-hop for gun violence, threatened to stop paying taxes if Congress authorized slavery reparations and said one of the only useful Spanish words he knew was “mamacita,” an apparent joke about cat-calling Hispanic women.
McDaniel has been seriously mulling a race against Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) this year, along with a possible run for lieutenant governor, but has delayed making any final decisions, a sign that he’s also waiting to see whether Cochran’s poor health forces him from office.
An outside group partly funded by the billionaire Mercer family, Remember Mississippi (with the same name as Walters’ book, based on the rallying cry for those who think McDaniel was robbed in 2014), has collected $1 million to back a possible McDaniel run. McDaniel has also worked closely with former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon as he gears up for a potential run, and joined Bannon in Alabama last year as he promoted Roy Moore’s Senate campaign.
McDaniel stood by Moore through the bitter end last year, even after multiple women accused him of sexual misconduct towards them when they were teenagers and Moore’s wife claimed they weren’t anti-Semites because “one of our attorneys is a Jew.”
“The establishment strikes back. But tomorrow is a new day. Don’t lose hope,” McDaniel wrote on Facebook after Moore’s loss.
This story has been updated to include Walters’ latest response.
House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) won’t run for another term, he announced Wednesday, making him the latest GOP chairman to announce he’s heading for the exits in recent months.
“I will not be filing for re-election to Congress nor seeking any other political elected office,” Gowdy said in a statement. “Instead I will be returning to the justice system. Whatever skills I may have are better utilized in a courtroom than in Congress, and I enjoy our justice system more than our political system.”
His announcement makes him the ninth Republican committee chairman to announce he’s leaving, the second this week alone, and the second Oversight chairman in less than a year, as former Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) quit to take a job at Fox News last year.
Gowdy’s retirement will leave the GOP without one of their most aggressive bulldogs. The former prosecutor relentlessly led Republicans’ Benghazi investigation, a push that effectively damaged Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. He’s long expressed interest in becoming a federal judge. A seat on the Fourth Circuit Court, which covers South Carolina, became vacant just yesterday, and the current U.S. attorney in South Carolina is serving in an interim role
House Republicans have been retiring at record rates this year, outpacing even previous wave elections. There are now 34 GOP lawmakers who won’t be back next year. But unlike some others, Gowdy isn’t leaving because of a potentially tough reelection fight. His Upstate South Carolina seat is safely Republican — President Trump won it by a 25-point margin.
The Justice Department has dropped its plan to retry Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) on corruption charges, an abrupt about-face that keeps him from another arduous trial and likely protects his place in the Senate.
The decision comes one week after a federal judge acquitted Menendez and his co-defendant, wealthy patron Solomon Melgen, of seven of the 18 counts they faced. An earlier trial had ended in a hung jury — with a reported 10 of the dozen members of the jury supporting acquittal.
“Given the impact of the Court’s Jan. 24 Order on the charges and the evidence admissible in a retrial, the United States has determined that it will not retry the defendants on the remaining charges,” a DOJ spokeswoman said in a statement Wednesday afternoon.
It’s become significantly more difficult to prosecute politicians for corruption since the Supreme Court tossed out former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s (R) conviction in 2016, and while the accusations that Menendez helped Melgen with his business interests as well as getting him visas for young women he was seeing in exchange for campaign contributions are rather unsavory, under current law it appeared unlikely that he’d be convicted.
Menendez celebrated the news.
“From the very beginning, I never wavered in my innocence and my belief that justice would prevail. I am grateful that the Department of Justice has taken the time to reevaluate its case and come to the appropriate conclusion,” he said in a statement. “I have devoted my life to serving the people of New Jersey, and am forever thankful for all who have stood by me. No matter the challenges ahead, I will never stop fighting for New Jersey and the values we share.”
Menendez faces reelection this year, and an ongoing trial would have cast a dark cloud over him and possibly could have ended his career. But New Jersey Democratic power-brokers including Gov. Phil Murphy, Sen. Cory Booker and (most importantly) party boss George Norcross had all rallied around him, all but erasing any chance of a serious primary challenge. While Menendez’s approval ratings are currently in the toilet, it’s hard to see the GOP mounting a serious challenge against him in the Democratic-leaning state now that he won’t be facing trial.
Democrats gave President Trump a chance in his first joint address to Congress last February. After a year of norm-shattering and race-baiting, they weren’t so polite.
Many congressional Democrats sat stonily as President Trump entered the House chamber Tuesday night, refusing to join in the normal bipartisan applause for the president. They audibly groaned during many portions of his speech. Lines tailored for bipartisan applause landed flat. Democrats snickered when Trump described his hardline immigration plan as “bipartisan.” Many wouldn’t even clap when Trump proclaimed “the state of our union is strong.” And when he laid out false claims about family migration visas, more than a handful yelled “lies” at the president.
State of the Union speeches are rarely bipartisan love affairs, but a year into Trump’s presidency, his often-partisan speech and Democrats’ harsh reaction put on display just how divided he’s left America.
“The immigration portion was so xenophobic and anti-immigrant and that’s just not the foundation of America,” Rep. Terri Sewell (D-AL) told TPM after the speech. “I’ve always felt like you should stare a bully in the face and never walk away from a fight and it’s clear to me that this president has it out for people who don’t look like him, who are not of the same background, and that’s anti-American.”
“His speech was stoking the flames of xenophobia and racism in our country,” she continued, slamming Trump for his veiled attack against NFL players who’ve chosen to kneel during the national anthem to protest police brutality against African Americans. “I chose to come because I respect the office. But what’s clear from listening to his speech is he doesn’t respect the office. He wasn’t talking about all Americans, he wasn’t talking to all Americans tonight, he was talking to a select group of his base.”
She wasn’t alone in her fury.
Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) told TPM she wasn’t one of the Democrats who shouted “lies” at the podium during Trump’s speech — “I yelled ‘wrong.'”
“We got teleprompter Trump tonight,” she said. “All of that belies the kind of actions he’s taken in a full year as president. He has not shown compassion. He’s not shown love. In trying to get rid of the Affordable Care Act he’s not shown any care about the health issues for millions of Americans. … We’ve had a year of totally outside the norm behavior as president.”
Dozens of Democratic congresswomen wore all black, wearing “time’s up” pins to honor the #metoo movement that has been partly spurred by Trump’s treatment of women. Members of the Congressional Black Caucus wore ties and scarves with kente African print patterns, a visible protest of the president’s “shithole countries” comment.
Democrats’ palpable hostility didn’t go unreturned. Republicans noticed Democrats’ silent protests and responded by trolling them, seeming to drag out their first standing ovation as long as possible as they goaded their colleagues across the aisle. They broke into long chants of “USA” twice during the speech.
“I can’t believe they wouldn’t stand for America,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) told TPM as he exited the chamber after the speech.
Democrats were furious about particular lines — the “stand for the national anthem” line, his falsehoods about so-called “chain migration,” his line that “Americans are dreamers too.”
“It was hurtful because I think he was trying to diminish them,” Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), who stormed out near the end of the speech, told reporters afterwards. “That’s what we’re trying to say, that ‘dreamers’ are Americans. … for a man who says he cares so much, why belittle them?”
Plenty were annoyed that Trump didn’t offer specifics on bipartisan areas like infrastructure, combating opioid abuse and paid family leave. Rep. Joe Crowley (D-NY) started off clapping during Trump’s infrastructure comments and ended with a scowl, standing and rubbing his fingers together in a “show me the money gesture” during his remarks.
But the last year clearly overshadowed the speech itself — including for many Democrats from states Trump won in 2016.
“The president said almost nothing to try to bring us together. It was a continuation, now twelve months in a row, of divisive language almost to the point of name-calling in how he did that,” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) told TPM. “He seems to have no interest in governing to and with and for the two-thirds of the people of the country that don’t seem to much like him.”
Correction: Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) yelled “you lie” at President Obama during a joint address on health care policy, not a State of the Union address, as this post originally stated.
President Trump heads into his first State of the Union speech with lousy approval numbers across much of the country — but remains fairly popular in a few states with tough Senate races next fall.
That’s according to a bevy of state-level polling Gallup released Tuesday, combining data the firm collected from surveys conducted throughout the last year.
Trump has majority approval rating in just 12 states — but three of those have Democratic senators up for reelection next fall, including the two states where Trump’s numbers are the best, West Virginia and North Dakota. He’s also above water in Montana, as well as in Tennessee, where Democrats hope they might be able to seriously contest an open Senate seat.
These numbers are crucial heading into this fall’s midterms. They’re also powering major strategic decisions with huge policy consequences — including how Democrats will handle ongoing negotiations to try to protect undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) led the red-state Democratic charge to end the shutdown by threatening to retire if Senate leaders didn’t back down.
But these numbers are plenty bleak for Republicans.
Trump’s overall approval rating for his first year in office was a dismal 38 percent, according to Gallup, the lowest first-year numbers in the polling firm’s long history of surveying presidential approval. If he doesn’t bounce back significantly Republicans are likely to take a beating in the upcoming midterms. Crucially, in many red and swing states Democrats are hoping to hold onto this fall, his approval ratings are significantly lower than they were when he was first elected.
Slightly more people disapprove than approve of Trump’s job performance in Republican-leaning Missouri and Indiana, both of which have top-tier Senate races next fall, and his approval rating is 10 points lower than his disapproval rating in a bevy of states key to Senate control: Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Arizona and Nevada. In Texas, according to Gallup, Trump’s approval rating is at just 39 percent, with 54 percent disapproving, a number that should put a scare into Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) as he faces down reelection.
Those numbers are promising for Senate Democrats. But as they look to defend 10 Democrats in states Trump won and pick off two more Senate seats to take control of the chamber, there’s a reason why their strategy and messaging has diverged in recent weeks from their party’s liberal base.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) will retire at the end of his term, he announced Monday, opening up another swing district ahead of the 2018 elections.
“Today as I announce my retirement at the end of this session of Congress, I want to use the opportunity to strongly encourage the many young people I meet to consider public service,” he said in a Monday statement. “I thank my friends and colleagues with whom I have served.”
Frelinghuysen’s retirement opens up a suburban northern New Jersey seat, boosting Democrats’ chances at winning it in what’s shaping up to be a good year for the party and marking the latest in a string of GOP retirements that have further damaged the party’s chances at holding onto the House. President Trump won the district by just a one-point margin after Mitt Romney carried it by six in 2012, and Democrats had already planned to target it this fall.
He’s the latest senior Republican to decide to head for the exits — and the eighth GOP committee chairman who’s decided to hang things up. Unlike other powerful committee chairmen, Frelinghuysen just won his chairmanship and could continue to serve as chairman for five more years. That makes his retirement is especially notable — a strong sign that his decision was driven by the political headwinds Republicans face this year.
A whopping 24 House Republicans have announced their retirements or already resigned this Congress who aren’t running for higher office, compared with just seven Democrats. That retirement rate is even higher than ahead of previous wave elections like 2010, 2006 and 1994.
Frelinghuysen had clearly been feeling that heat after decades without a serious campaign challenge (he’d once been so safe in the district that Michael Moore tried to run a ficus plant as a write-in against him to illustrate the lack of competition). He drew national attention last year for contacting the boss of a local constituent who’d been leading protests against him to complain about her. Late last year, the normally reliable fiscal conservative joined a number of other New Jersey Republicans in voting against the GOP’s recent corporate tax cuts because some of the pay-fors are projected to badly hurt New Jersey real estate, drawing the ire of House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI).
His retirement also marks the potential end of a centuries-old political dynasty in New Jersey dating back to the Revolutionary War. Four Frelinghuysens have served as New Jersey senators, and the congressman’s father held his congressional seat for decades from the 1950s to the 1970s.
Both parties pledged to hotly contest his seat in next year’s midterms.
“Congressman Frelinghuysen’s record of service to New Jersey’s 11th district will be remembered for decades to come,” National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Steve Stivers (R-OH) said in a statement. “This district has been held by a Republican since the 1980’s, and we plan to keep it that way in November.”
“Representative Frelinghuysen’s retirement opens up a very competitive seat that is moving quickly towards Democrats,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Evan Lukaske said. “Democrats are confident that this seat will turn blue next November.”
Rep. Pat Meehan (R-PA) will retire at the end of his term, he told GOP leaders Thursday, days after it became public that a senior staffer had accused him of sexual misconduct and he’d settled using taxpayer dollars.
Meehan’s decision comes after he sought to defend his relationship with a former aide, arguing it had never been sexual in nature while at the same time admitting that he’d acted inappropriately toward her.
The congressman until recently sat on the powerful House Ethics Committee that oversaw investigations of scandals, including sexual harassment claims, and his burgeoning scandal threatened to further damage the national image of a party that’s already struggling badly with female voters in recent polls and elections.
His decision to retire opens up a swing House seat in suburban Philadelphia. Democrats would likely be favored to win this seat in what’s shaping up to be a good year, and a recent state Supreme Court ruling that the GOP-drawn congressional map is an illegal partisan gerrymander may make the district even more Democratic, giving the party a prime pickup opportunity.
Republicans walked a fine line in acknowledging Meehan’s decision to leave, declining to criticize him directly while promising to hold his seat.
“While I’m disappointed by the circumstances leading to Congressman Meehan’s retirement, I thank him for his dedication to his district. We must always hold ourselves to the highest possible standard – especially while serving in Congress,” National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Steve Stivers (R-OH) said in a Thursday night statement. “I am confident that the voters of Pennsylvania’s 7th District will elect a strong conservative who will represent their values.”
Progressives and immigrant advocates are furious at Senate Democrats for agreeing to end a short-lived shutdown without any guarantee that they’ll win protections for undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as youngsters, seeing it as a full-scale capitulation by the party.
The majority of Senate Democrats voted Monday for a bill to fund the government through Feb. 8, less than three days after standing together to force a short-lived government shutdown. In doing so, they managed only to secure a promise from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) that he’d allow them to bring the DREAM Act to the floor for a vote if no deal is reached before then.
The deal infuriated the left-wing groups and immigration advocates who had cheered their Friday stand — with many warning of recriminations, the first major schism on the left since President Trump’s election.
“It’s morally reprehensible and political malpractice. It’s [Senate Minority Leader Chuck] Schumer’s job to keep his caucus together and stand up for progressive values and he failed on both fronts,” Ezra Levin, a leader of the Indivisible Project, told TPM shortly after the vote. “We’re going to be holding the Democrats accountable who caved.”
Levin’s group was among those on a conference call late Monday morning encouraging Democrats to stand strong on the vote. When TPM informed them during the call that Senate leaders had decided against doing so, the news was met with a stunned silence. After a few seconds Frank Sharry, the head of the pro-immigrant America’s Voice, weighed to say he had “a lot of concern” about its details.
“They grew a pair on Friday night and they couldn’t find them today,” Sharry told TPM in a follow-up conversation after the vote. “Friday night, Democrats stood together and said ‘we’re going to take on this racist bully.’ … By Monday morning they were climbing down for very little in return. Come on, Democrats.”
Sharry said he and other advocates wanted Democrats to stare down President Trump and the GOP for the next few days to let the pressure build and try to force them to the negotiating table once again. Instead, Trump refused to negotiate — and Democrats were the ones to crumble.
“What were Democrats thinking?” he said. “We’re pissed.”
He’s not the only one.
“Enough is enough. We cannot rely on empty promises from those who have already proven to play politics with the lives of Dreamers. Today, Republicans — and too many Democrats — in Congress betrayed our American values and allowed bigotry and fear to prevail,” the American Civil Liberties Union’s Lorella Praeli said in a statement. “We will be watching, and will make sure voters this November know if their representatives stood for Dreamers or for their deportation.”
“The Democrats need to stand strong,” said Center for American Progress head Neera Tanden.
Outside groups weren’t the only ones who were furious. A number of Senate Democratic offices felt that their leadership had led them into a situation where they had no good options, hurting moderates by forcing a shutdown and then hurting the entire party with its base by capitulating so fast.
More than a dozen Senate Democrats broke with party leaders to vote against the bill, including a number of potential presidential candidates, a sign they know exactly where the base is. While most of them declined to take shots at their leaders, they clearly weren’t happy with the sudden about-face, warning not to trust McConnell’s promises.
“I don’t believe he made any commitment whatsoever and I believe it would be foolhardy to believe he made a commitment,” Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) told reporters after the vote.
Red-state Democrats facing tough reelections this fall didn’t want the shutdown square-off over immigration in the first place. On the other side, liberal Democrats who gladly stood with party leaders on Friday weren’t happy they decided to cave on Monday, even as many went along on the vote.
“I’m so goddamn mad,” one senior aide to a Democratic senator who voted to reopen the government on Monday after voting against it on Friday. “We went to the mat to prove to DREAMers we would, without any clear plan for moving forward. And we ended up in a position where moderates realized that — too late — and forced us into giving up and reopening [the government].”
Other Democrats said said it was a losing fight from the start — one where they only could have won with a broad argument about GOP dysfunction hurting voters, not a specific one on immigration.
“Shutting down the government over any issue never works, and we put so much pressure on DACA being the reason that it lost the message narrative. This was our best way out,” another senior Senate Democratic aide told TPM. “The outside groups have to own this. Dreamer groups saw our messaging and then boxed us into a corner, we couldn’t say ‘these are all the things we’re fighting for.’ … We failed fast, that’s okay. Now we need to turn and pivot and do a better job of unifying around a message on their dysfunction.”
Democrats say the decision to bow out now lets them fight another day and hopefully get things right this time. But they admit they’re not out of the woods yet, warning that the original shutdown may hurt Democrats’ electoral prospects in 2018 both by temporarily sticking the red-state members with the shutdown and hurting base enthusiasm by quickly caving in.
Unless Democrats managed to secure the DREAM Act in the next few weeks — a long shot as the White House ruled out a compromise piece of bipartisan legislation immediately after the vote — they warned things might just get worse for the party.
“I have no idea what the end game is here,” said the first aide.