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

With just over 100 days until the 2018 midterm elections, Democrats are increasingly optimistic that they’ll win control of the House — while Republicans are growing more and more alarmed about their party’s tenuous grip on their majority.

In more than a dozen interviews with top strategists in both parties conducted by TPM this week, every Democrat and all but one Republican said that the Democrats have the upper hand heading into the homestretch of the campaign. But there’s plenty of disagreement about how sure a bet that is. Different plugged-in Democrats guesstimated their chances of winning control as between 55 percent and 80 percent. Two Republicans put their party’s chances of control as low as one in three, while one optimist put it at 60 percent likelihood.

That’s a wide range of opinions held by people with access to a lot of private polling and modeling information, as well as the opposition research and TV ads that have yet to air, though the majority of strategists in both parties put Democrats’ chances of winning at between 50 and 60 percent. The one thing all strategists, granted anonymity so they could speak candidly, agree on: Democrats’ chances of winning the 23 House seats needed for control look significantly better than they did even one month ago.

Since then, President Trump’s family separation fiasco damaged him with voters, his shocking meeting in Helsinki with Russian President Vladimir Putin further weakened him, and the effects of his trade wars began alarming GOP-leaning downscale voters in farming- and manufacturing-heavy parts of the country that rely on exporting products.

After a dip during the late spring, Democrats’ lead in most recent generic congressional polls has climbed back above the 7-point threshold that strategists in both parties see as the likely break-point where Democrats will win the House. And the more Trump talks, the more Republicans cringe.

It’s hard, and has gotten harder through the summer. … It’s really hard to get out from underneath what’s going on in the White House with this president,” said one veteran GOP strategist. “I’m very scared.”

Democrats’ enthusiasm gap advantage remains large. Independents are breaking for Democrats by double-digit margins nationally and in most districts. The map of true tossup races seems to keep shifting Democrats’ way. With Sunday marking 100 days until the election, the unofficial start of the campaign’s homestretch, professional Democrats are a lot cheerier than their Republican counterparts as they look to get their clients to Congress.

The polling data we’re getting back, it’s so good that it seems hard to believe. Obviously a lot can happen, and the Democratic enthusiasm gap needs to stay where it’s at, but it’s pretty rare the trajectory of an election can be upended this late in the game,” one senior House Democratic campaign strategist told TPM.

Democrat Amy McGrath announces her congressional bid in a campaign video.

A number of Republicans glumly agree that the Democrats’ tidal wave looks big enough right now to wash over the seawall they’ve built with gerrymandered districts and some battle-tested incumbents.

I’m deeply skeptical that all the pieces will come together just right to hold the House,” one Republican strategist working on a number of House races told TPM. “In the summer, things always look race-by-race like you can use financial muscle to save enough seats. But at some point in the fall, the dam tends to break against the party in power. That’s the worry.”

Democrats are seeing some very promising polls for their candidates in surprising districts, numbers that are largely in line with what Republican strategists are seeing themselves. A few Democratic challengers are already leading GOP incumbents in head-to-head polls, something that rarely happens in polling this early, except in wave election years. In a number of other districts they’re already close to a tie — numbers that Democrats see as a sign they’ll eventually carry many of those districts. A tied race this early usually signals that the lesser-known challenger has more room to grow and is more likely to win, though some Republicans argue that it just shows the fired-up Democratic base has already coalesced and that the GOP has more opportunity to turn out less enthusiastic voters.

To do so, Republicans have promised to run on their tax cuts — but haven’t been doing that so much in the special elections so far. GOP strategists concede the issue isn’t as much of a winner as they’d hoped, especially in states like New Jersey and California where the law hurt as many wealthier suburban voters as it helped, and are hoping to message more broadly about a strong economy. Democrats plan to lean hard into discussing health care, protecting Medicare and Social Security, and economic opportunities, letting Trump’s scandals of the week stand for themselves. Both parties say Trump’s impact is massive — but largely baked in at this point, and outside their control.

Democrats are most confident about winning 10 open seats held by retiring GOP members. They’re also very bullish about defeating Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA), a congresswoman in a Democratic-leaning district that many Republicans concede is a lost cause, and Rep. Rod Blum (R-IA), who holds a traditionally Democratic blue-collar district that Trump won comfortably. From there, things get a bit harder, but some surprising polls in other places have them feeling good.

Democrats are doing especially well with female voters — a number of strategists predicted a record-setting gender gap in this election, with even GOP-leaning college-educated women going the other direction. That’s a major problem for Republicans in the suburban, Democratic-trending districts where Trump is deeply unpopular. They’re also seeing surprisingly strong numbers in the more downscale and more rural “snap-back” districts where Trump did much better than Republicans historically did. The one area that’s concerning Democrats and exciting Republicans is suburban territory where Democrats are relying on big turnout from Hispanic voters. That doesn’t seem like it’s materializing yet, a factor that could make it much harder for them to win districts from California to Texas that they’re banking on for the majority.

Democrats have serious pickup opportunities in places they haven’t been able to compete in for years without incumbents. They’ve seen polls showing their candidate narrowly leading in an open coal county district in West Virginia, even though Trump won it by a three-to-one margin. Navy Veteran Amy McGrath leads Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY) in both Democratic and GOP polling in another Appalachian district that Trump won by 15 points. They’re competitive in typically Republican seats in rural Kansas, GOP-leaning downstate Illinois and Salt Lake City, Utah. They’re also seeing some strong numbers in the Northeast and in suburban districts throughout the Midwest they haven’t been able to win for years. They’re confident they can beat some incumbents in GOP-leaning seats who haven’t had truly tough races in years (or never have), like Reps. Peter Roskam (R-IL), Kevin Yoder (R-KS) and Mike Bishop (R-MI).

They’re also feeling better than in past cycles about defeating some of the GOP’s best candidates, battle-tested incumbents like Reps. Mike Coffman (R-CO), Jeff Denham (R-CA) and Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) who’ve won tough races in the past but haven’t had to face wave elections in their swing districts.

Some Republicans agree.

“I’m scared for them. They’ll run better than textbook campaign, they’ll do everything right, but in these situations you can only outperform by so much,” said one strategist.

Rep. Dave Brat (R-VA) speaks with reporters.

A bigger frustration for Republicans has been the incumbents in normally safe seats who haven’t had tough races in the past that they worry have been caught sleeping. Those incumbents either haven’t done enough to prepare financially or continue to talk like safe-district Republicans, like Reps. Dave Brat (R-VA), Claudia Tenney (R-NY) and John Culberson (R-TX).

“The majority isn’t going to be won or lost on the candidates in tough seats who are working hard and doing everything right. It’s going to be won or lost on the candidates in the marginal seats who don’t realize this is going to be a historically tough year,” said another House GOP strategist.

A huge and expanding map with candidates ready to pounce is a reality partly because House Democratic candidates are basically printing money.

It used to be true that a half-million dollar fundraising quarter was an impressive number for a House challenger. But the 2018 election cycle is throwing that out the window. In the last three months, nearly two dozen House Democratic challengers topped $1 million (!), including Navy veteran Mikie Sherrill, who hauled in an incredible $1.9 million for the seat held by retiring Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ). More than 50 House Democratic challengers out-raised the GOP incumbents they’ll face this fall, another rarity. More than a dozen sitting House Republicans have less cash on hand than their Democratic challengers at this point, something that’s almost unheard of. Democrats also have the cash edge in nearly all of the the two dozen competitive open House seats, most of them currently held by retiring GOP members.

That’s the most concrete sign of strong Democratic campaigns — and shows in most cases they will have the money they need for a much bigger battlefield map than in past cycles, even in the expensive media markets many of their suburban seats sit in. For the first time since Citizens United opened the outside spending floodgates a decade ago, House Democrats may have the fundraising advantage, or at least parity.

Outside money could undo some of that advantage — the GOP-aligned Congressional Leadership Fund already has $71 million in the bank to spend on House races this fall, far more than Democratic outside groups. But former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s pledge to spend $80 million this fall, mostly to help Democrats retake the House, could neutralize the GOP’s outside money edge. And outside money doesn’t go nearly as far as candidates’ own cash, because they can get much lower advertising rates and more tightly control their own campaign message.

Democrats have also over-performed in most special elections throughout the year. There’s just one more big test before the general election — a GOP-leaning open House seat based in Columbus, Ohio, where Republicans are viewed as having the slight edge as the Democratic candidate has made some late missteps. But however that race turns out, the fact that it’s competitive shows how big the 2018 electoral map is.

“The playing field is so large, it’s hard to predict success,” said one Republican.

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President Trump’s approval ratings are in the toilet in a trio of key upper Midwestern states, according to new polling conducted for NBC News by Marist College.

Voters disapprove of the the job Trump is doing in Michigan and Wisconsin, two states he won in 2016, by double-digit margins. That’s true as well as in Minnesota, where he fell just short of winning less than two years ago.

In Michigan, 54 percent of voters disapprove of his job performance, with just 36 percent approving. Those numbers are similar in Wisconsin, with 52 percent disapproving to just 36 percent approving. In Minnesota, Trump’s disapproval rate is at 51 percent, with 38 percent approving.

Democrats lead in the generic ballot question of which party voters want to control Congress by eight points in Michigan, nine points in Wisconsin and twelve points in Minnesota.

Those are dismal numbers for Trump as he prepares for his 2020 reelection fight. And they’re even worse for down-ticket Republicans, who have a number of key races across the three states.

Republicans are staring down tough battles to hold onto the governorships of Wisconsin, where Gov. Scott Walker (R) is seeking a third term, and Michigan, which has an open seat. They still hope to seriously contest at least one Senate seat across the three states, most likely against Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI). And they are defending more than a half-dozen key House seats across the trio of states — not to mention their two best (and possibly only) House pickup opportunities, in Minnesota.

These polls were conducted mostly right after Trump’s disastrous meeting with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki last week, so he could see some improvement as that fades and the next near-daily controversy arises. But for now, Trump and Republicans should feel panicked about their standing in this trio of key states.

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Normally, a member of Congress who disavowed her own party’s president and was held under 40 percent in a primary would be a dead woman running in a primary runoff. But Rep. Martha Roby (R-AL) looks like she’ll survive her reelection fight next Tuesday — and she has Nancy Pelosi and President Trump to thank.

Roby called then-candidate Donald Trump “unacceptable” when his Access Hollywood video surfaced late in the 2016 campaign, demanding he drop out of the race. She followed up weeks later by saying she couldn’t look her children in the eye “and justify a vote for a man who promotes and boasts about sexually assaulting women.”

Those comments enraged many local Republicans at the time, who mounted a write-in campaign against her that siphoned off nearly 10 percent of the vote as she was held to an 8-point win in a district Trump won by nearly a two-to-one margin. That set up Roby for a tough 2018 election.

But she got lucky, as her primary runoff opponent, Democrat-turned-Republican former Rep. Bobby Bright, did the one thing that might piss off GOP activists even more than insulting Trump: He voted for Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to be speaker of the House in 2008.

That was part of the reason why Trump agreed to endorse Roby last month, after Bright edged out other, more hardline conservative candidates to push her into the primary runoff.

Alabama Republicans think that will be enough to give her another term in Congress.

“Fair or unfair, a lot of Trump supporters took what she said really personally, as though she had wronged them somehow. The only person who could absolve that in their eyes is Trump himself – and he did,” Todd Stacy, a local political blogger who was Roby’s spokesman during the 2016 campaign, told TPM.

Perry Hooper, Trump’s Alabama state chairman, has known both candidates for years. His friendship with Bright goes back to Bright’s days as Montgomery mayor more than a decade ago, and he’s known Roby since she was little (their fathers were both local judges and his wife was Roby’s high school cheerleading coach). He’s backing Roby in the race, and encouraged Trump to do the same before the president’s endorsement.

“She upset me a couple years ago when she said the president should step aside … however, Martha was reelected and she has stuck with and supported the president probably more than any other congressman,” he said. “She’s been endorsed by the president. And the fact that Bobby supported Nancy Pelosi really hurts. … Pelosi is like the devil among Republicans.”

Hooper wasn’t the only one pushing the White House to back Roby, who is close to House GOP leadership. Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) did so as well.

As Trump said, Roby has worked hard to embrace the president’s policies since his victory. While she’s never apologized for her 2016 remarks, she’s voted party-line on key items of the president’s agenda, worked alongside his daughter and adviser Ivanka on her push to expand the child tax credit, and has appeared several times at White House meetings for bill signings and policy events.

Conservative bona fides alone haven’t been enough to save other Republicans who criticized Trump, as Rep. Mark Sanford’s (R-SC) recent primary loss and Sen. Jeff Flake’s (R-AZ) decision to retire rather than lose his primary have proven. But unlike them, Roby hasn’t remained a critic of the president. And it sure helps to have a former Democrat to run against.

Money also matters. Roby had more than $700,000 in the bank as of her pre-runoff filing with the Federal Election Commission to just $160,000 for Bright, who is partly self-funding his campaign. That’s allowed her to deluge the airwaves with ads highlighting his Democratic past and her big endorsement.

Bright’s allies admit that the spending disparity has been a problem.

“She’s putting out these commercials, these lies. People are thinking Bobby is this horrible liberal and he’s really more conservative than her,” Jeana Boggs, a local Tea Party activist who’s backing Bright after supporting another candidate in the first round of voting, told TPM.

Bright argues that he’s the real conservative in the race – and he has a long track record of fairly conservative policy views. Bright voted more with Republicans than Democrats on the big issues during his two-year stint in office, and when he and Roby squared off in 2010 he ran ads highlighting his votes with the GOP and tried to get to her right on immigration, accusing her of slow-walking a push to keep local businesses from hiring undocumented immigrants.

The two go back even further than that 2010 contest, in which Roby squeaked out a two-point win: She was on the Montgomery city council when he was mayor more than a decade ago.

Bright argues his one major apostasy on the right, voting for Pelosi, was to ensure he could get good committee assignments and bring home the bacon for the poor district, which includes downtown Montgomery and much of the blue-collar agricultural southeastern corner of the state, known as the Wiregrass region.

I didn’t vote for Nancy Pelosi. Let me clear that up, I voted for the district,” he said.

Bright says that ensured he got seats on the House Armed Services and Agriculture committees, two key issues for the farming- and military-heavy district. He slams Roby for abandoning her own seats on those committees to go to the powerful House Appropriations Committee: “She got off the two most important committees that affect people down here.”

Roby’s team points out that she now has a spot on the defense appropriation subcommittee, and that the chairmen of her former committees both endorsed her.

“He can say whatever he wants about how conservative he is, but that vote speaks very loudly,” Roby spokesman Blake Harris told TPM. “She’s had a great relationship with the White House and voted for Trump’s agenda.”

Bright has embraced Trump hard in the race, echoing the president’s calls to “drain the swamp,” though he said he didn’t love everything about the president personally.

“Do I embrace all the personal issues he confronts? No, I don’t,” he said. “But I do endorse and embrace his efforts to build our country, make it strong.”

As Bright points out, Trump doesn’t have a sterling track record in Alabama endorsements – Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL) lost his primary in spite of Trump’s support, and Roy Moore lost his Senate bid after Trump endorsed him in the general election. But neither candidate’s weakness was a lack of fealty to Trump, like Roby’s was.

Bright claimed that Trump “struck a deal with Roby and her lobbyist Paul Ryan and the establishment in Washington,” exchanging his endorsement for promises of support.

Whether or not it’s true, the support could play major dividends for her on Tuesday.

“The Trump endorsement was very, very helpful to Martha. She was already well positioned in this runoff because of Bright’s Democratic history and I suspect the endorsement sealed the deal for her,” said Toby Roth, a top Alabama GOP consultant and lobbyist who’s backing Roby in the race.

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Hey there, readers! Thanks for the latest Q’s. Keep ’em coming!

Here’s this week’s:

There seems to be a discrepancy between how well Democrats have been over-performing in special elections/primaries compared to their slowly decreasing lead in the generic ballot. Is there some reason these two indicators seem to be diverging? If so, which one is a better predictor of the midterm election outcome?

This might sound like a cop-out, but both special elections and the generic congressional poll are important but not determinative data points as I evaluate what this fall’s midterm elections are going to look like. (So are fundraising, early ad reservations, candidate recruitment, race-specific polling, and economic indicators, which I won’t get into here besides to say that the first three look really good for Democrats, the third is a mixed bag, and the fourth looks better at the macro level right now for the GOP.)

First, both special elections and the generic congressional poll are imprecise snapshots of a moment in time — and their results can’t be fully extrapolated across the map. But that doesn’t make them useless.

Most experts think that Democrats likely need to win the popular vote by at least seven percentage points to win the House, because of the combination of GOP gerrymandering in some key states and the fact that Democratic voters’ tend to be clustered in more urban areas.

In recent polls, Democrats have been right around if slightly below that mark — RealClearPolitics’ polling average had them at +6 as of Monday afternoon. That average has bounced between a 3- and 8-point Democratic lead in the last month as President Trump’s own approval ratings have rebounded up into the low-to-mid 40s, not the most comfortable position for Democrats to be in.

But what’s in the news at the moment tends to have an outsized impact on the generic poll. And while many of the recent polls included in that average came right after Trump’s meeting with North Korea’s dictator, which earned him mostly positive headlines, we may be beginning to see those numbers tumble once again in the wake of  the backlash against his administration’s decision to separate migrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border. It’s unclear how far he’ll sink from that self-created crisis, but I’d caution against overreacting to a major dip in the polls from Trump as much as I’d caution over-reading last week’s polls.

Now, onto the special election factor.

Democrats have flipped a total of 47 seats from red to blue in the Trump era, according to a tally kept up by our friends over at the liberal Daily Kos, while Republicans have flipped just eight seats. Perhaps more telling, Democrats have on average performed 12 percentage points better in these special and off-year elections than Hillary Clinton did in 2016. Those are all unique races with their own geographic and candidate-specific quirks (not every race is going to have a Roy Moore, for instance), and the national mood can shift from between when those races occurred and November.

But those great results for Democrats suggest that at least in these off-year, more low-turnout elections, they’re significantly more fired up to vote than Republicans. That enthusiasm gap could make a big difference in the midterms, which will have higher voter turnout than some of these specials but are unlikely to come anywhere near presidential-level turnout. It certainly did in 2010, when President Obama’s 45 percent approval rating didn’t look so bad — until a 13-point GOP enthusiasm gap fueled historic Democratic losses in the House.

So, both factors matter. Democrats likely need to be around that seven percentage point edge to have a real shot at winning back the House, but if they benefit from lopsided voter enthusiasm, that number could marginally shrink.

Some polls have dug a bit deeper into this. Pew recently put out a study showing Democratic voter enthusiasm is through the roof — higher than in any recent midterm, including the 2006 Democratic wave. But that same study found GOP enthusiasm is much higher than in any recent midterm except the 2010 Republican wave. Other pollsters have found a wider enthusiasm gap for Democrats — like this recent survey showing Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) leading by seven among all potential voters but clinging to a one-point lead among likely voters.

We’re still over four months from the election, and as we saw in the volatile 2016 election, things can shift very quickly. My best advice is to try not to overreact to specific data points while trying to keep them in a broader context. But right now, the data I’ve seen gives Democrats reason to be cautiously optimistic about flipping the House.



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

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It took weeks, but national Democrats finally got the candidate they wanted to face Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA).

Democrat Hans Keirstead conceded to opponent Harley Rouda on Sunday night, shortly after the last of the Orange County district’s votes were counted, leaving Rouda with a 126-vote lead.

“After weeks of hard work counting every ballot, I congratulate Harley Rouda on advancing to the general election,” Keirstead, a scientist, said in a Facebook post on Sunday. “I know the Rouda campaign values the importance of science and facts in public policy, and they will give voice to that message. I pledge my support and will work in unison with Harley Rouda to make sure Democrats and science prevail in November.”

Rouda thanked Keirstead with a tweet.

That newfound comity stands in stark contrast to the pair’s close and sometimes nasty primary fight, which Democrats had worried could lead to Republican Scott Baugh beating both of them in the all-party primary to face Rohrabacher in the fall. That nearly happened, but major investments by national Democrats to take down Baugh helped push him into 4th place, just 2,500 votes behind Rouda.

The race was one of a handful where Democrats were worried they might fail to get a candidate through because of California’s unusual top-two primary system. But a concerted effort by national Democrats kept that from happening.

Keirstead got the state Democratic Party’s endorsement early on and was an early candidate touted by national Democrats. But some #metoo accusations led local groups like Indivisible to abandon him in favor of Rouda, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee followed suit.

National Democrats believe Rouda’s nomination gives them a strong chance at beating Rohrabacher in the fall in a traditionally Republican coastal Orange County seat that has trended their way in recent years, especially given Rohrabacher’s baggage as a Russia apologist and other idiosyncratic views.

The lengthy vote count also illustrates a more nausea-inducing fact for many political observers: If the battle for the House is decided by just a handful of seats, California’s snail’s-pace vote counting could leave the fate of the House undecided for weeks after the election. The state has more than a half-dozen competitive races, and as this primary and races from earlier years prove, the closer contests often take weeks to sort through.

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House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) is choosing sides in his state’s hotly contested GOP Senate primary.

Ryan and Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) made a joint endorsement of Wisconsin state Sen. Leah Vukmir (R) Monday morning, backing her over former Marine Kevin Nicholson (R).

“Leah is a longtime friend of ours and she has been a conservative partner among grassroots Republicans for years. She has proven that in the face of opposition, she will never waver and will work relentlessly for the causes that she believes in,” the pair wrote in an op-ed on RightWisconsin, saying she “stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Governor Scott Walker to advance critical reforms that would create jobs and improve our overall economy.”

The duo join much of Wisconsin’s Republican establishment in backing Vukmir over Nicholson, a former Democrat who has re-emerged as a hardline conservative in the race. The state Republican Party has officially endorsed Vukmir. She also has the tacit support of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), who pledged to stay neutral in the race but whose son is working for Vukmir and whose wife has endorsed her.

But Nicholson has the backing of deep-pocketed conservative donor Dick Uihlein, a powerful figure in the state. A recent Marquette University found him with a 37 percent to 32 percent lead in race.

Whoever wins the late summer primary is expected to face an uphill battle against Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI). Republicans had initially seen this race as a tossup, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) didn’t even mention it when listing this year’s top competitive races in a recent interview, and recent polling has found Baldwin with a lead in the high single digits. Most GOP strategists believe Vukmir would stand a better chance, but there’s not full consensus on that point.

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Hardline conservative Rep. Warren Davidson (R-OH) summed things up pretty neatly when asked if the GOP’s big immigration bills were likely to pass on Thursday: “No.”

That’s the consensus from most Republican lawmakers, who have been whipsawed by President Trump’s erratic behavior on immigration and stymied by their own inability to land on a compromise bill that can get 218 votes in the House.

Much of that internal House GOP failure has been driven by the normal incalcitrance from Davidson and other members of the Freedom Caucus, the right-wing tail that wags the dog of House Republicans, as well as more moderate Republicans’ failure to force the issue with GOP leadership.

The House plans to vote on two immigration bills on Thursday. One conservative bill that would give President Trump almost all he has asked for on border security and changes to visas while offering an more onerous process for undocumented immigrants brought here as children to stay in the country legally. The other, a compromise bill that was still a moving target just hours before the vote itself, would offer much of what Trump wants as well as a more permanent fix for the DREAMers.

The conservatives made it clear Thursday morning that they weren’t thrilled with the compromise legislation, both due to the chaotic process and the actual content of the bill.

Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-NC) had a blow-up on the House floor with Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) Wednesday afternoon. And he made it clear that he still was far from pleased with the legislation as it stands late Thursday morning.

“I fully anticipate that the [immigration compromise] bill still needs work in order to get to 218,” Meadows said Thursday. “I don’t know that there’s time to work it out before a vote today.”

Meadows also slammed the rushed and sloppy process. The House GOP bill had to be amended last-minute because its original language gave Trump five times the planned $25 billion for his wall.

“There were enough technical drafting errors yesterday that gave me great pause, and some of those drafting errors were substantial,” he griped. “You don’t pass a major piece of legislation with there being errors in it, and so I don’t know there’s enough time between now and this afternoon.”

But House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-TX), whose committee had to fix the draft legislation, dismissed the change as “two words that needed to be changed,” while suggesting anyone claiming that was the reason they opposed the bill wasn’t being honest.

And Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), another Freedom Caucus leader, was blunt that he and others weren’t happy they didn’t get their way on everything.

“The reason it’s going to fail is not enough members are willing to do what we said, plain and simple,” he said.

Even as conservatives made it clear the bill wasn’t going to get the support from the right that’s needed, some of the more centrist members also began to peel off, further dooming the bills.

“I have long advocated for securing our nation’s borders and providing a permanent legislative fix for DACA recipients, but this proposal does not accomplish either goal,” Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX), a leader of the pro-immigration Republicans, said in a statement.

The GOP members abandoning ship from both sides of the conference show that this last-gasp effort to provide help for DREAMers including those in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program is all but done.

“We’re running out of time. This is probably the last chance,” Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), a pro-immigration Republican, conceded to TPM.

“No man, c’mon! You’ve got to keep working at it,” Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA), a Freedom Caucus member, interjected.

But Diaz-Balart wasn’t optimistic, calling the possibility of failure “a huge blow to both border security and the DREAMers.”

And the finger-pointing had begun even before the vote. A number of Republicans including Trump sought to blame Democrats for refusing to back their legislation (even though Republicans have been completely unwilling to embrace bipartisan legislation). But some were honest about whose fault this was: Trump’s and the conservatives’.

Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID), a retiring Freedom Caucus member and immigration expert, made it clear that Trump has not been helpful in the process, saying his attacks against Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC) during his Tuesday meeting that was supposed to be a rally for the immigration bills had done the opposite, calling it “unfortunate.”

“The president needs to understand that that may have actually lost him votes at this meeting,” he said. “The reason he was there was to emphasize he had our backs and I think a different message was sent that day.”

And moderate Rep. Pete King (R-NY) took a whack at his more conservative colleagues.

“The Freedom Caucus, it seems to me, got 80 to 90 percent of what they what. That should be enough. This is probably one of the most consensus-type bill on such a controversial issue within our party. Because of them, the only way we could get a bill to pass is to reach out to Democrats and make the bill more liberal. It’s hard to see what their agenda is,” King groused. “It’s their way or the highway, I guess.”

This story was updated at 1:45 p.m.

Alice Ollstein contributed to this story.

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President Trump dumped cold water all over House Republicans’ flickering efforts to pass a major immigration bill on Thursday, undercutting their already-unsteady push with just hours to go before scheduled votes with a tweet.

“What is the purpose of the House doing good immigration bills when you need 9 votes by Democrats in the Senate, and the Dems are only looking to Obstruct,” Trump tweeted Thursday morning, complaining about the Senate’s filibuster while further destabilizing House Republicans’ increasingly desperate attempts to pass a comprehensive immigration bill later that day.

The tweet is the latest sign of Trump’s ambivalence towards a pair of competing House GOP bills that would hand him much of what he’s asked for on immigration: money for his border wall and more restrictions on visas for immigrants entering the country in exchange for protections for undocumented immigrants brought here as children.

And it’s his latest move to undercut the tense House negotiations, which have already been thoroughly upended by the Trump administration’s move to separate migrant families at the border (one Trump partially walked back with an executive order on Wednesday after saying that wasn’t within his power). Trump also didn’t give the ringing endorsement House leaders had hoped for on the bills during a meeting with House members on Tuesday, instead delivering a rambling stem-winder that confused many in the room.

The House immigration fight is as much about politics as policy. Moderate House Republicans in more diverse and suburban districts facing tough reelection fights are desperate to protect DREAMers who are facing the loss of their legal status after Trump’s attempt to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

That group came up just short in its push to partner with House Democrats to get a majority of members on a discharge petition, a mechanism to force a House vote over the objections of House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI). After they failed they settled on a compromise bill with hardline conservatives that made many concessions to the right-wingers.

But that group of Freedom Caucus hardliners have continued to balk over the compromise bill, and both it and their preferred version were already looking like they were going to go down in defeat on Thursday. The slapdash efforts on a compromise hit peak tension Wednesday evening, with Freedom Caucus head and Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) getting into a heated argument on the House floor with Ryan over the bill. And in their rush to get the bill done, House Republicans are having to clean up some bone-headed errors — including a Rules Committee vote to fix language that would have accidentally increased the money for Trump’s border wall by a factor of five.

The House votes are still scheduled for Thursday afternoon, though they could get pushed back. But the president’s tweet makes their chances look even more doubtful.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The New York Times first reported the investment.

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

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

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