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

The man who has the edge to become Alabama’s next senator didn’t hedge away from his hardline socially conservative positions on Thursday, returning to his central campaign theme of a lack of godliness as a central reason for society’s woes.

Controversial former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore warned that America was falling apart because of things like transgender troops in the military.

“Our foundation has been shaken. Crime, corruption, immorality, abortion, sodomy, sexual perversion sweep our land. When we become one nation under God again, when liberty and justice for all reigns across our land, we will be truly good again,” he said in his first and only one-on-one debate against appointed Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL).

The comments came shortly after he said he wanted to free the country and military from “political correctness and social experimentation like transgender troops in our bathrooms.”

Moore’s entire career has been focused on a hardline religious right philosophy — one that’s gotten him thrown off the Alabama Supreme Court twice, first for refusing to remove a statue of the ten commandments then a decade later for refusing to accept the Supreme Court’s ruling legalizing gay marriage. His Thursday statements are far from the only controversial remarks he’s had to say on the campaign trail.

Most of the rest of the debate focused on Moore attacking Strange’s record, while Strange touted President Trump’s endorsement. It’s notable that Moore was the one on the attack, as he’s led in the polls and front-runners usually sit back and try to stay more positive.

At the end of the debate, Strange mocked Moore’s support from a number of former White House staffers, like Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka.

Many of the people supporting you look like the unemployment line at the White House. They were fired,” he said.

Trump will stump for Strange in Alabama Friday night, a moment that could prove pivotal in a race that strategists believe has tightened following millions of dollars of ads from a super-PAC aligned with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) flaying Moore.

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President Trump is heading to Alabama to prop up a hand-picked establishment candidate against a bomb-throwing insurgent, setting up a key test of whether the president himself or his “Drain the swamp” message is more important to the GOP base.

Trump will hold a Friday night rally for Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL), a former lobbyist and state attorney general appointed by a corrupt governor earlier this year. Trump’s visit could prove pivotal in Strange’s uphill battle to win Tuesday’s primary runoff against firebrand former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore (R), who even Strange’s allies admit has more in common stylistically with the president than their candidate.

Trump’s endorsement has helped keep Strange’s hopes alive. But when the president comes to Huntsville on Friday and tells his supporters to jump for Luther, the question is how high they’ll go.

“This could tilt things in Luther’s favor. I hope it does. But you sometimes don’t know,” Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), a Strange ally, told TPM. “It’s going to help. The question is how much?”

The president remains immensely popular in Alabama, a state where right-wing populism burns as hot as anywhere in the nation. But helping “Big Luther,” a soft-spoken if loyal foot soldier whose most obvious trait is his towering height and biggest advantage is the $9 million Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) super-PAC is spending for him, has put the president crossways with some of Trump’s own fiercest defenders.

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The man most likely to be Alabama’s next senator told his supporters late last week that rape, murder and child abuse are on the rise — and are so because of Americans’ lack of faith.

“We put ourselves above God, and in doing so we forgot the basic source of our morality,” he said at a Saturday church event in Decatur, Ala. “People are getting killed in the streets. Washington, D.C.? People are getting killed in the streets. Chicago has the highest murder rate you can imagine. All across our land we have child abuse, we have sodomy, we have murder, we have rape, we have all kind of immoral things happening because we have forgotten God.”

Moore later read one of his poems — about how America is falling apart.

Some choice lines:

“Babies piled in dumpsters, abortion on demand,
Oh, sweet land of liberty, your house is on the sand.”

“We’ve voted in governments that are rotting to the core,
Appointing Godless judges who throw reason out the door.
Too soft to put a killer in a well deserved tomb,
But brave enough to kill that child before he leaves the womb.

You think that God’s not angry, that our land’s a moral slum?
How much longer will it be before His judgment comes?”

The comments are in line with Moore’s normal stump speech, and show how heavy the religious conservative focuses on Christian morality in his message. That’s a feature, not a bug, of his candidacy in the heavily conservative, deeply religious state.

Violent crime has actually dropped dramatically over the last few decades, though it did tick up in the past few years.

He went on to defend his knowledge of other issues — including the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program President Trump recently nixed, and he had no idea about until recently.

“I know about health care. I know these issues. I know about the military. I know about DACA. RAISE, the new immigration statute they’re trying — they’re passing, or is before Congress. I know about all these issues. But who talks about morality? And morality is the basic source of right and wrong,” he said.

Moore has led in every single poll of his primary runoff against appointed Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL) in spite of Strange getting the heavy backing of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and an endorsement from Trump, who will be in the state Friday for him. Most GOP strategists closely watching the race say it has tightened, but that Moore still has the edge heading into next Tuesday’s primary.

Moore’s campaign posted the speech to his Facebook page. It did not respond to requests seeking clarification on his comments. His remarks can be viewed below, starting at about 34 minutes in.

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Former Vice President Joe Biden is heading down to Alabama to boost long-shot Democratic candidate Doug Jones.

Jones’ campaign announced that Biden will head to town for a rally on Tuesday, Oct. 3.

Biden endorsed Jones last month, before the first round of primaries, and the two have a longstanding relationship — Jones backed Biden’s earlier presidential runs. Jones, a former U.S. attorney best known for his work putting members of the KKK behind bars for bombing a black church that killed four young girls.

Jones’ campaign manager, Bill Romjue, is also a former Biden campaign staffer.

Jones is a major underdog in the deep-red state, but some Democrats believe he has an outside chance at winning if Republicans nominate controversial firebrand Roy Moore as their candidate. The GOP primary runoff between Moore, a former state Supreme Court justice, and appointed Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL) will take place next Tuesday.

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Controversial former White House aide Sebastian Gorka is heading to Alabama to co-headline a rally for former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore (R), pitting him against his old boss in a closely watched Senate race.

Gorka will join former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin (R) for a Thursday rally for Moore just days ahead of a primary against appointed Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL), the establishment candidate in the race, TPM confirms.

Just two days later, President Trump will hold a rally for Strange, who also has the strong backing of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). Vice President Mike Pence is also expected to help out Strange in the race’s final days.

The dueling rallies are the culmination of a burbling split in the party — one that’s not breaking down along the expected lines. Trump has been convinced by Senate Republicans to help Strange, a reliable vote for the president’s agenda, over Moore, a more outsider-fueled, rabble-rousing lightning rod closer to Trump’s own mold.

Every poll of the race has found Moore ahead, but many show Strange within striking distance.  Trump’s high-profile support could be the difference-maker in a state where Republicans still love him.

The support of the lesser-known Gorka, who was pushed out of his White House job in August, is less of an obvious boost — but he’s just one of many Trump allies who has split with the president on this race, including Gorka’s close associate Steve Bannon.

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Alice Ollstein contributed to this story.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) is facing a delicate political balancing act as her home state is once again consumed by racial strife following a controversial court ruling freeing a white former cop who killed a black man.

St. Louis has returned to the epicenter of civil unrest in the United States as days of heated protests followed the Friday acquittal of former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley of first-degree murder of Anthony Lamar Smith, a black man accused of dealing heroin. Caught in the middle is McCaskill, who needs strong black turnout and good crossover performance from culturally conservative white voters to win another term in Congress.

The verdict appalled many the state’s black community, as Stockley was caught on tape declaring during a high-speed chase to catch Smith that he was “going to kill this [expletive], don’t you know it.” And it’s reopened wounds still fresh after the 2014 killing of black teenager Michael Brown in nearby Ferguson.

That leaves McCaskill, already facing a difficult reelection race, in a tough position. She needs strong black turnout to win reelection next year in a state that’s trended hard towards Republicans over the last decade, but also needs to do well with the type of suburban and rural white voters who are at least as upset about the broken windows and injured police officers as the verdict itself.

“She’s in a tough spot,” said one Missouri Democrat. “The left is going to want her to be stronger on the fact that this guy got killed. The right is going to want her to be ‘’blue lives matter.'”

McCaskill has largely stayed quiet on the ongoing protests, which have shut down businesses, forced cancellations of big events like U2 and Ed Sheeran concerts and have led to sporadic outbursts of violence, including the smashing of many shop windows and damage to the home of St. Louis’s mayor. Police had arrested more than 80 people through the weekend — and some police mocked protesters by appropriating their “Whose streets? Our streets” chant as they did so Sunday night.

Following the Friday verdict, McCaskill issued a carefully worded statement that sought to reach out to people on both sides of the heated debate, while calling for an improvement in police-community relations.

“Some Missourians are sure to be pained by today’s decision, and others will agree with the ruling, but the fact is that none of us can let it detract from the goals that we all should share — safer streets, where police have the trust of the communities they serve, and a system of justice that’s fair to all of our citizens,” she said in the statement. “The events in Ferguson shook our region to its core and forced us to face some tough realities. But since then, our law enforcement and the families and businesses they serve have begun talking and hearing each other. We can’t let today’s decision send us back to our respective corners.”

McCaskill’s statement stopped far short of what other Missouri Democrats had to say. Even the state party put out a statement that included “black lives matter,” while Rep. Lacy Clay (D-MO) called the ruling an “absolute outrage.” It wasn’t enough for some African American leaders in the state.

St. Louis Treasurer Tishaura Jones (D) called the comments “really middle of the line” and said she was disappointed that McCaskill, who she credited for working with the community on police reforms after Ferguson, hadn’t been more visible this time around. She said she hadn’t heard from the senator, or knew anyone who had, though others said McCaskill had been in touch with community leaders.

“If the African American community doesn’t see more of her soon that’s going to be a problem,” she told TPM. “Some people in politics will choose not to take a side. It’s a delicate line to balance if you don’t want to piss off one side or the other … I understand the kind of Democrat that does get elected [statewide] but at the end of the day you’re going to have to ask yourself, ‘whose side am I on?'”

McCaskill was a bit more forceful when TPM caught her in the Senate hallways Monday evening.

“We’ve got to get to work on healing. It’s not only important that justice be done but it’s also important that people perceive that the system is fair, and clearly there’s a problem. We’ve made a lot of progress after Ferguson but obviously we’ve got a lot more work to do,” she said.

McCaskill’s office declined to discuss the issue’s political impact, or any specific outreach she’d done with black leaders since the ruling.

“This topic is too serious to talk ‘politics’ around it. Claire has spent a lifetime working for equal justice under the law, and the people of Missouri know that,” McCaskill spokesman John LoBombard told TPM in an email.

Democrats say the roiling protests in Ferguson likely made culturally conservative white voters especially receptive to President Trump’s racially charged law-and-order arguments last year, partly fueling his lopsided 18-point win in a state that up through 2008 was a battleground. They blame Trump’s strong showing there for costing them the governorship and a Senate race where talented Democrats ran close to 10 points ahead of Hillary Clinton, but still fell short.

“The law and order stuff turned out a big base of Republican voters that came out to vote for Donald Trump,” said one Democrat who has worked on a number of races in the state.

McCaskill has longstanding relationships with black community leaders, and sponsored a 2015 bill aimed at demilitarizing police forces and boosting body camera usage. Those close to her say they expect her to work diligently to keep the lines of communication open both in black communities, and in the rural white areas that have trended hard away from her party in recent years. She’s already completed a listening tour that took her into some of the state’s reddest pockets.

“Racial tension is a fact of life in Missouri but to say you can be concerned about black voters and not win white voters elsewhere is an oversimplification,” said former Missouri Democratic Party Chairman Roy Temple. “She has a very strong understanding of how lots of different people in Missouri look at the world.”

After winning a nail-biter of a race in 2006, McCaskill coasted to reelection after then-Rep. Todd Akin’s (R-MO) “legitimate rape” comments doomed his 2012 campaign. Now, she’s going to need a lot of things to break her way, even if Democrats have the winds at their backs this year. And that means finding a way to get black voters excited about her campaign without alienating more culturally conservative whites.

Even her allies say she needs to be more vocal.

“If she keeps a hands-off approach and doesn’t make her presence felt on the issue she has a real opportunity to lose the enthusiasm of her base. That’s more important than some statement. The active dialogue and being on the ground with the community is where the real work will be done,” said the Democratic strategist who’s worked on races in the state. “At this critical time that community needs to see Claire is out there.”

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President Trump is heading to Alabama for a last-minute campaign rally for appointed Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL), a move that sets off a very public split with former top adviser Steve Bannon.

Trump announced over the weekend that he’ll stump for Strange on Saturday, just days before his primary runoff election against former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore (R), a controversial religious conservative who has the support of Bannon and many of Trump’s other right-wing allies.

Trump endorsed Strange early in the primary, but had done nothing to help him since he and Moore made the runoff — his only public comments since then on the race were praising both candidates in a single tweet after the election. That had establishment conservatives nervous that he’d sit things out rather than back Strange, with some even worrying about him switching his endorsement to the more rabble-rousing Moore.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has spent heavily for Strange in the race, and can now breathe a sigh of relief that Trump will be a help and not a hindrance to him in the primary’s closing days. Bannon, on the other hand, had seemingly been expecting Trump to stay out of the race. He’s gone all-in for Moore, setting up the contest as the first battle in his planned primary war against McConnell and the GOP establishment.

Strange has trailed every public poll of the race, but has been within striking distance in some surveys. Trump remains immensely popular in Alabama, especially in GOP circles, and a full-throated endorsement on the eve of the primary could make a big difference in a close race.

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Roll tide, you betcha.

Former Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin is heading down to Alabama to help boost former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore (R) in his primary against appointed Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL), joining forces with a pro-Trump super-PAC to try to knock out Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) strongly preferred candidate.

Palin will join a bus tour run by Great America Alliance, a pro-Trump group that recently added former White House staffer Andy Surabian, who has close ties to recently ousted former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon. The planned rally will occur late next week, according to a strategist close to the organization.

“Poll after poll has shown that the people of Alabama are rejecting big-time lobbyist Luther Strange in favor of conservative warrior judge Roy Moore,” that strategist told TPM. “We’re excited for Gov. Palin to barnstorm the state next week and put the final nail in the coffin of Mitch McConnell and [former Alabama Gov.] Robert Bentley’s hand-picked establishment puppet.”

As TPM has written, the race sets up an early flashpoint in Bannon’s planned war against McConnell and the GOP establishment.

Palin’s visit further heightens tensions in a race that has turned into a proxy war between McConnell and his allies and populist conservatives aligned with the White House, with Bannon at the helm. Though Trump himself endorsed Strange in the first round of the primary, he praised both candidates after they made the primary runoff and has been notably silent on his Strange support ever since.

Great America Alliance plans to spend in the low six figures to help the controversial Moore between now and the Sept. 26 primary election.

That includes an ad it plans to run during this weekend’s University of Alabama football — by far the most-watched event of the week in the state.

Moore is a controversial figure in the state best known for his hardline social conservative views and for twice being forced off the Supreme Court for refusing to follow higher court rulings. In the early 2000s he built, then refused to remove, a statue of the Ten Commandments at his courthouse, and more recently he ordered the state not to to issue same-sex marriage licenses after the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage nationwide.

He’s led Strange in all public polls of the race in spite of millions of dollars of spending by a pro-McConnell super-PAC, though while some surveys have had him up comfortably by double-digit margins others have had Strange within striking distance.

Bannon’s crusading website Breitbart first wrote of Palin’s planned visit.

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Following a rash of retirements, House Republican leaders are scrambling to get something done legislatively to convince other frustrated members not to toss in the towel in a tough political environment.

It’s not much fun to be a House Republican these days. President Trump has repeatedly taken potshots at their conference. Primary challenges burble on the right. Congress has been unable to pass much meaningful legislation in spite of unified control of Washington. Every trip home means an earful both from liberals furious at their support of the president and conservatives irate they’re not doing enough to support his agenda. And members who haven’t seen real competition for years face tough races due to Trump’s deep unpopularity.

That weighs heavily on Republicans who are on the fence about returning.

“The jury may be out for some folks. … Some days it feels discouraging,” said Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV), who told TPM he was likely to run for reelection but admitted his final decision in March was “a long ways away.”

“I can see where people would be discouraged as members of the majority when some days it seems like they’re fighting the Senate and sweeping generalizations even made by the administration that don’t even apply to the House,” he said, pointing to the failure of Obamacare repeal. “I don’t know of anybody who thinks that anything about election 2018 is going to be an easy walk. And Republicans love intramural [fighting], so there’s every reason to think there’s going to be a robust intramural period for some time.”

Four House Republicans from swing territories already announced they’ll leave Congress this year, including three in the past week: Reps. Dave Reichert (R-WA), Charlie Dent (R-PA) and Dave Trott (R-MI). Dent’s announcement lamented the “increased polarization and ideological rigidity that leads to dysfunction, disorder and chaos” in the House. Republicans concede that the seat opened up by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s (R-FL) retirement is likely gone for their party. And while numerous strategists say this wave of retirements has already crested, they warn that the next one could be a doozy if they can’t get some big things done before the end of the year.

“There are a number of people, plenty of whom we don’t even know about yet, who are torn” about running again, said one national GOP strategist involved in House races. “Whether there’s measurable progress on tax reform the next 30 days will be determinative. If we get to November 1st and it looks like tax reform isn’t happening, I think there’ll be a mass exodus.”

“It’s a disaster if it doesn’t happen,” conservative Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) warned, referring to a failure to make meaningful progress on tax reform. “That has an effect. People like me who are here for the cause, if we see no hope for the cause, which in my case will never happen, that would have a terribly damning effect on our stamina here.”

Other conservatives offer similar warnings.

“If we don’t perform, sure, you’re going to see more resignations just because they don’t want to see the wrath of the voter. It’s real. If we don’t get it done, having the majority can no longer be taken for granted,” House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-NC) told TPM on Wednesday. “There’s more talk about the frustration of not getting things done than I’ve heard in a long time. … If you can’t get something done, why stay in the fight?”

Strategists say that frustration is as least as big a driver for members considering retirement as the threat of a tough race next year. As one put it, “Most people who are looking at retiring aren’t retiring because they’re scared. It’s because Congress sucks and they wanted to get stuff done.”

Those in charge of keeping Congress in GOP hands insist they’re not worried about the recent spate of retirements, pointing out fewer members have quit than in past years (though it’s still very early).

“Retirement numbers are still well below the historical average and we’re confident the recently opened seats will remain in the Republican column,” National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Jesse Hunt told TPM.

A number of members in targeted districts whose names were mentioned as possible retirement targets guaranteed that they’re running again. Reps. Leonard Lance (R-NJ), Pete Roskam (R-IL), and Pete Sessions (R-TX) were among the members who told TPM they were definitely going to run. Most of the swing-seat Republicans who pot-stirring Democratic operatives suggest might leave, including that trio, have hired campaign staff and are raising big money for reelection.

The one Republican strategists agree should be on retirement watch is Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), who was term-limited out of his committee chairmanship and is weighing both a Senate bid and an outright retirement. Upton’s spokesman has been telling reporters that “At this point retirement is not in the cards,” far from a hard-and-fast denial.

Retirements often come as surprises, and tend to cluster after holiday breaks. The first round usually happens right around now after members get back from their month-long August recess. A larger number tend to bow out after the Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks. A final wave comes in early spring of the election year, as members have to decide before campaign filing deadlines whether or not to run. Once a member makes up his or her mind it’s not easy to dissuade them, say the people whose job it has been to do just that.

“I’ve been there. There’s not much you can do to persuade somebody to stick around in a brutal environment other than to appeal to their sense of patriotism and commitment to their caucus,” said former Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY), who ran the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 2012 and the brutal 2014 election.

Israel, a former Democratic rising star, left Congress early partly because he was sick of fundraising and the toxic political environment.

“Every month I get at least a handful of emails from former colleagues on both sides of the aisle asking questions about my process in deciding to retire, and I think that’s very telling. That suggests potentially a much higher number of retirements in this environment as opposed to others,” he said.

Former National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Reynolds (R-NY) said there’s “a caution light on” for Republican leaders bracing for more retirements — and said Washington’s toxicity has shortened political careers much like higher injury rates have shortened NFL players’.

“I like incumbents to run for reelection in most instances, not open seats. But there’s going to be attrition,” he said. “And in today’s era in the astroturf of politics people are wearing out faster than they did in the grass era.”

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Democrats won a pair of state legislative seats in special elections Tuesday night in districts that President Trump carried by comfortable margins last fall, the latest in a string of down-ballot wins the party has pulled off in the Trump era.

Democrats won a Oklahoma statehouse seat that Trump won by an 11-point margin last fall by 60 percent to 40 percent last night, and picked up a New Hampshire statehouse seat by a 12-point margin in a district that Trump had won by 56 percent to 39 percent of the vote. Those mark 31- and 28-point swings towards Democrats, respectively.

Those wins bring the total number of Democratic pickups in the Trump era to six seats – they’d already won another seat in New Hampshire, two others in Oklahoma and one in New York. And as the Daily Kos points out, in more than two-thirds of the 36 state legislative special elections held this year Democrats have over-performed Hillary Clinton’s numbers in those districts.

That trend has carried over to Congress as well, where Democrats have consistently out-performed Clinton’s numbers in House special elections this year, though they’ve failed to win a race yet (Georgia’s 6th district was the only one they spent heavily to win, and they came up short there).

Democrats were decimated at the statehouse level during President Obama’s years in office — Republicans currently hold unified control of 25 state legislatures and governor’s offices, while Democrats have one-party control of just seven states. But if recent trends continue, they could be looking at a major bounce-back at the state legislative level, as well as having a real shot at winning back control of the House.

That could prove especially crucial, as the next round of redistricting will occur in 2021. Statehouse Republicans used their big 2010 wins to lock in control of many of these states for the last decade.

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