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.
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.
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.”
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.
I will be in Huntsville, Alabama, on Saturday night to support Luther Strange for Senate. "Big Luther" is a great guy who gets things done!
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
Steve Bannon is looking to Alabama’s upcoming Senate primary as the opening salvo in his war against establishment Republicans — one whose results could be a major factor in determining just how scared GOP incumbents are of his political power.
Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist, is using his rabble-rousing website Breitbart as a megaphone to promote controversial former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore (R) over appointed Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL), who Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is backing with all his might.
Two sources close to Bannon say with Moore leading the race just two weeks out from primary election day, Bannon sees an opportunity to take credit for an early scalp and scare Republican incumbents into ending their burbling criticism of the President.
“Steve views this as the flashpoint in his national war against McConnell,” said one source close to Bannon. “We’re sick and tired of these Senate and House Republicans thinking they can get away with a free shot at the President without facing any consequences.”
With two weeks to go until the Sept. 26 election, both Bannon and McConnell have a lot riding on the race.
A Moore win would send shockwaves through Washington, spooking Republicans and showing that McConnell’s money can’t save them from a wrathful populist base even when President Trump isn’t fueling that fury (he’s given Strange a tepid endorsement). A come-from-behind Strange victory, on the other hand, would show Republican lawmakers that McConnell’s deep pockets may matter more than Bannon’s pugilistic ability to turn Trump’s core voters against incumbents—and they might grow more willing to publicly criticize the President as a result, leaving both him and Bannon increasingly isolated.
“If Strange pulls this race off in Alabama that carries some good ramifications. If he doesn’t all these guys are going go back in their corners, scared of being the next Luther Strange,” said former Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA), an establishment Republican who helmed the National Republican Congressional Committee.
“It’s a canary in the coal mine for Senate and House Republicans that the mood in Washington is broken and needs to be fixed, and anything different than that means you’re going to be running into a headwind,” said another Bannon ally.
Bannon and a close ally working for a pro-Trump outside group, former White House staffer Andy Surabian, sat down with Moore and his campaign staff at Bannon’s mansion late last week in a series of meetings with potential primary challengers, two sources confirmed to TPM. It’s unclear whether or not they’ll come in with any money to help the underfunded Moore in the campaign’s home stretch, but helping amplify his message on the far right could pay dividends for both sides.
McConnell hasn’t been as loud about his Strange support, but he’s put a lot of money where his mouth is. He recently headlined a D.C. fundraiser for Strange, and a super-PAC run by his allies has spent millions of dollars to knock down Moore.
Bannon made it clear in an interview that aired Sunday on CBS’ “60 Minutes” exactly what he thinks of McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI).
“The Republican establishment is trying to nullify the 2016 election. That’s a brutal fact we have to face,” he said, calling out McConnell and Ryan by name and saying they “do not want Donald Trump’s populist, economic nationalist agenda to be implemented.”
Breitbart-led campaigns against sitting incumbents are nothing new, and more often than not have come up short. Ryan easily dispatched a Bannon-backed primary foe last year, and McConnell-backed candidates managed a perfect winning record against a bevy of ring-wing challengers in 2014 and 2016. But Bannon never before had the ear of the sitting President. Trump remains immensely popular with the base and is already causing some big-league problems for incumbents who’ve dared cross him, including Sens. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Dean Heller (R-NV), both of whom are in Bannon’s crosshairs and face tough Trump-fueled primary challengers. Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) also said Monday he’s mulling retirement, though he insisted a Bannon-backed primary challenger wasn’t playing in his reasoning. Sources close to Bannon say he may back a number of challengers to House Republicans.
“McConnell ran the table against conservatives running against incumbents, but he didn’t have a Republican President. And now Donald Trump is at the top of the organizational chart, not Mitch McConnell,” said the second Bannon ally.
Ironically, Trump endorsed Strange during the first round of the primary, a move sources close to the White House have told TPM was more about getting revenge on Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL), who was in the race and had criticized Trump, than about doing a favor for McConnell.
Trump and McConnell are on even worse terms now than they were back then, and the President’s only public comment on the race since the first round of voting was a tweet congratulating both Moore and Strange on making the runoff.
A source close to the White House tells TPM the White House recently conducted a poll showing Moore comfortably ahead in the race, dissuading Trump from doing anything more for Strange. Politico also reported Monday that Trump had promised Strange an in-state rally that he’s no longer planning to do.
Strange’s team said given the ongoing hurricane fallout, they’re not pressing the White House for more help at this time. But they’re milking Trump’s endorsement for all it’s worth. Strange debuted a new campaign ad Monday touting Trump’s support, a shift from a bevy of attack ads he’s been leveling against Moore:
Moore has led all public polls, and while some have shown a double-digit blowout for him, others have found Strange within striking distance. Moore’s Trumpian anti-establishment career and loyal fanbase among hardline evangelicals are why he’s leading the race, not Bannon’s backing.
“What do you think Breitbart’s name ID is in this state, five percent?” asked Tom Young, a former Shelby chief of staff who’s backing Strange.
Strange has struggled thanks to the one-two combo of having been appointed by a corrupt former governor he’d been investigating and the support of the deeply unpopular McConnell. But Strange’s allies insist it’s going to be a photo finish.
“Let’s see who turns out. I think it’ll be a close race,” Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) told TPM.
But perceptions of power sometimes matter more than reality in scaring politicians. And Bannon’s anti-Strange attacks are just a sign of what’s to come. In future races, he’s more likely to be able to count on Trump and big money from Trump super-donors Robert and Rebekah Mercer to make more noise, forcing incumbents to spend scarce resources on nasty primaries.
“I wouldn’t be afraid of Bannon. But what they do is bring outside money with these super-PACs. I don’t think you cower to them but they have to use a lot of resources,” said Davis, warning that if Moore wins, “members will look over their right shoulder. It probably has that effect.”
TPM composite via Christine Frapech. Images via AP.
Rep. Dave Trott (R-MI) is leaving Congress at the end of his term, he announced Monday morning, making him the third swing-district House Republican to declare his retirement in the past week alone.
Trott’s decision to leave is the latest sign that House Republicans are bracing for a brutal 2018 election — one that some of them aren’t so eager to face. And it opens up a competitive seat Democrats hope they can capture in a wave election.
President Trump won Trott’s suburban Detroit seat by 50% to 45%, about the same margin Mitt Romney carried it in 2008. But President Obama won it in 2008, and Democrats were already looking at Trott as a potential 2018 target.
“I have decided not to seek reelection in 2018. This was not an easy decision, but after careful consideration, I have decided that the best course for me is to spend more time with my family and return to the private sector,” Trott said in a statement.
Trott is already the fourth Republican from a competitive district to announce he’ll retire this year, and the third in just a week. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) announced earlier this year that she was done with Congress, and last week moderate Reps. Dave Reichert (R-WA) and Charlie Dent (R-PA) announced their retirements as well.
Republican strategists are bracing for more retirements in tough swing districts. Members tend to announce retirement plans either in early September, after they return from the August recess, or after the winter holidays after they have time to spend at home with their families.
“The [National Republican Congressional Committee] is looking forward to keeping his seat red in 2018. We will not let his hard work go to waste, and are confident this seat will remain under Republican control,” NRCC Chairman Steve Stivers (R-OH) said in a statement.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee called his retirement “a tell-tale sign that running for re-election in Paul Ryan’s do-nothing Congress would have been an uphill climb not worth the effort” in a statement that promised to target the district next fall.
New Hampshire’s top Democrats are calling on their state’s (nominally) Democratic secretary of state to resign from President Trump’s voter fraud commission after its head made some wild claims that out-of-state voters tipped the state’s Senate race last fall and possibly cost Trump the state.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who heads the panel, repeated unfounded claims that Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-NH) narrowly defeated then-Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) because out-of-state voters flocked into New Hampshire on election day, claiming in a Breitbart column that new “proof” exists to show that happened because of a flawed study.
That study showed thousands of people with out-of-state licenses voted in the state, and that new applications for licenses in-state didn’t cover those numbers. The problem: New Hampshire doesn’t require people to have in-state licenses to vote so long as they are residents of the state (like many college students).
Kobach’s fringe opinions are no shock. But the presence of New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner (D) on the panel, giving Trump and Kobach bipartisan cover from the country’s longest-serving secretary of state, has infuriated local Democrats, as TPM wrote. And Kobach’s comments questioning the validity of the state’s elections ahead of a scheduled meeting of the panel in New Hampshire next week was the last straw for many of them.
“It has been clear since its inception that President Trump’s voting commission is an attempt to grossly mislead voters and lay the groundwork for broad-scale, politically motivated voter suppression. Now, the head of President Trump’s misguided commission is using deceiving and irrelevant data to rehash the same false claims that have been debunked time and again by independent analysis and members of both parties in New Hampshire,” Hassan and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) said in a joint statement. “Secretary Gardner’s association with this partisan commission risks tarnishing his long legacy of fighting for the New Hampshire Primary and promoting voter participation, and it would be in keeping with his distinguished record to immediately relinquish any role with this commission.”
Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH) joined the calls.
Asking all in #nhpolitics to join me in condemning these dangerous lies & calling on SoS Gardner to immediately resign his Commission seat.
There is growing sentiment among Democrats that Gardner, who is revered in both parties for fighting to keep New Hampshire’s primary first in the nation, is quickly running out of goodwill within the party. As TPM wrote, if Democrats retake the state legislature next election he may not be a lock to keep his job.
Members of Congress from both parties are furious at President Trump for ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, but Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) ain’t one of them.
Manchin, who’s facing a tough reelection fight in a state Trump carried by a whopping 41-point margin last fall, stayed silent for days on the sensitive issue even as his colleagues blasted Trump for his move to end the program that’s allowed 800,000 undocumented immigrants brought here as children to work and attend school legally in the U.S.
On Thursday, he defended Trump’s move in a conversation with TPM while taking the Republican line in calling for a DACA reinstatement to be paired with border funds.
“I think it was reasonable what he did, what the president did, in saying it’s the legislature’s responsibility to fix this thing,” Manchin told TPM.
“DACA would be hard for me if there’s not border security. … As far as I’m concerned there has to be border security with it,” he said when asked how he wanted to see the program fixed, while saying the best move for Congress would be to take up comprehensive immigration reform like the bipartisan 2013 bill he supported.
“Border security’s the number one thing. Nothing’s going to pass without border security. So if they think they can pass DACA or anything without a tough border security bill, that won’t happen,” he continued, saying he wouldn’t be happy if a bill to deal with DACA created a pathway to citizenship for those undocumented immigrants.
Manchin isn’t the only red-state Democratic senator wrestling with DACA, but he’s the only Senate Democrat who has decided to bear-hug Trump on the issue show most of the public wants to see resolved with a way to keep the program alive. While three-quarters of voters and a majority of Republicans want to let undocumented immigrants stay in the country, something Trump himself says he wants to happen, that’s a lower figure in places like West Virginia.
Even his two Democratic colleagues who voted against the DREAM Act in 2010 took a stand against the president.
Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) was one of them — but he blasted Trump earlier this week for ending the program President Obama created after the DREAM Act failed to pass Congress.
He told TPM that Trump’s move was “inhumane” and “quite unnecessary,” and admitted he made a mistake seven years ago when he voted against a bill that would have created a pathway to citizenship for young undocumented immigrants. He said he wanted to see that bill come up now and would support it — “The best way to fix it would probably to get [Sen. Dick] Durbin’s (D-IL) bill passed” — and said he wanted to see a clean vote, letting border security measures stand on their own merits.
“I tried to think back what my thought process on that, and quite frankly it might have been we’d just gotten our… had a very bad election, let’s just put it that way,” Tester said.
While he suggested politics may have motivated him seven years ago, he called accusations that he’d flipped on the issue for political reasons “total bull.”
“I’m doing it because it’s just wrong fundamentally to pull families apart. Maybe that issue I didn’t fully understand in 2010, too,” he said, arguing a clean vote to give young undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship was the best way forward.
At the time, Tester took a ton of heat from liberals who’d worked hard to help get him elected — and felt betrayed by his vote. But they seem ready to let bygones be bygones.
“Tester has pulled a 180 since that terrible vote. At the time I called the it equivalent of taking a baseball bat to a bunch of children,” Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas told TPM. “In the years since when immigration’s come up he’s voted the right way. … I don’t hold any grudges against Sen. Tester anymore.”
Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-IN), the only other Democrat currently in the Senate besides Tester who voted against the DREAM Act in 2010, was also critical of Trump’s move and signed onto a bill to give those in the program “clarity and stability,” while Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) long ago evolved on the issue, flipping from a no to a yes by 2010.
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), another Democrat from a state that went hard for Trump who is facing reelection next fall, just flew home with Trump and received his praise for being open to tax reform.
She wasn’t in Washington in 2010. But she called it “critically important” to resolve the issue, and said it was “really unfair” that people who had come forward with their personal information and trusted the government to uphold its end of the bargain were now in jeopardy.
The public has clearly shifted in the last seven years — “Things have evolved,” as Tester said — and even a good number of Republicans seem eager to act to get the issue off the table and help young undocumented immigrants keep their legal status.