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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

Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) won’t run for another term in office, he announced Tuesday, creating a vacuum at the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a vacancy for the Senate that’s likely to be hard-fought in the primary and potentially the general election.

“After much thought, consideration and family discussion over the past year, Elizabeth and I have decided that I will leave the United States Senate when my term expires at the end of 2018,” Corker said in a statement Tuesday afternoon.

The decision means one of the Senate’s most interesting members won’t be around Washington much longer. Corker, a two-term senator, has had President Trump’s ear at times (he’d been on Trump’s short list for Secretary of State) and had shown a willingness to harshly criticize the president when he disagreed with him.

Corker led the charge in pushing through new sanctions against Russia this past summer, which Trump had reluctantly signed after huge bipartisan support in Congress.

And he was particularly critical after Trump’s post-Charlottesville comments blaming “both sides.”

The President has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability, nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful,” Corker declared at the time.

Trump fired back with a tweet saying Corker had repeatedly asked him whether or not to run again — and insinuating he might face a primary fight.

Corker drew bipartisan praise upon his announcement.

“Even when he’s been investigating smugglers’ tunnels near the Gaza strip, talking to foreign leaders, or giving advice to President Trump, Bob has never let his feet leave the ground in Tennessee. He says what he thinks, does what he believes is best for Tennesseans, and has helped lead his colleagues on complicated issues involving the federal debt and national security,”Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) said in a statement. “His absence will leave a big hole in the United States Senate, but I know he’s carefully weighed his decision, and I’m looking forward to seeing what he tackles next.”

His Senate Democratic colleagues were just as kind.

“No matter the challenge, you can always count on Senator Corker to bring a reasoned, thoughtful approach, and to make decisions based not on partisanship but on what he believes is in the best interests of the American people. I am sorry to hear of his decision not to run for another term in the Senate,” Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) said in a statement. “I also hope this is a wake-up call to all of us in the Senate that we need to recommit ourselves to creating an environment where reasonable, thoughtful people of both parties can come together to solve problems.”

Corker’s retirement is likely to trigger a knock-down, drag-out GOP primary to replace him — and potentially an opening for Democrats in the heavily Republican state if the wrong candidate emerges for the GOP.

Corker was already facing a potential challenge from the populist right from former State Rep. Joe Carr (R), an anti-immigration hardliner who lost a 2014 primary challenge to Alexander.

Other potential candidates include Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), a Trump ally who has $3 million in the bank, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R), and Tennessee State Sen. Mark Green (R), who Trump had nominated for Army secretary but was forced to withdraw due to controversial remarks he’d made about LGBT people and Muslims.

One intriguing possibility: Former University of Tennessee (and Indianapolis Colts) football star Peyton Manning, who is rumored to be interested in the race. Manning, a Republican, played golf with Trump earlier this year.

The seat is highly likely to remain in GOP hands, barring disaster — Corker narrowly won his seat in a terrible year for the GOP, 2006, and the state has moved hard right in recent years. Trump carried it by 61 percent to 35 percent last fall. But many of the state’s Republicans have a moderate streak, and the wrong GOP nominee could make things interesting and give Democrats hope that Tennessee could be the third seat they need in their pipe-dreams of winning back Senate control, though that would mean holding all 10 Democratic seats in states Trump won last year and winning both Arizona and Nevada.

Nashville attorney and Iraq War veteran James Mackler (D) was already in the race against Corker, and Democratic strategists think he’s a solid potential nominee. Moderate Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN) is another name who could be an intriguing statewide candidate, as is former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen (D).

Democrats were happy to highlight Corker’s retirement — though they stopped short of promising to fight for the race.

“Senator Corker’s decision is the latest example of a key theme driving GOP Senate primaries across the country: divided and leaderless, Republican Senate campaigns have nothing to run on but a string of broken promises, and this dynamic will continue to define Republican Senate primaries across the map,” the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee said in a statement.

This post was updated at 6:06 p.m.

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With friends like these, who needs Steve Bannon?

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) (pictured, right) gave a fairly candid assessment of the closely watched Alabama Senate GOP primary runoff on Tuesday afternoon, admitting his preferred candidate, appointed Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL) (pictured, left), was the underdog.

“Roy Moore is probably the favorite right now but it depends on turnout, the ground game,” Shelby told reporters in Washington on Tuesday. “If there’s a small turnout or an average turnout, a turnout like it was, Moore should win. A bigger turnout would probably favor Senator Strange.”

Shelby insisted high turnout would give Strange a “window to win,” and argued that it’s a “closer race than we think at the moment,” alluding to a spate of recent polls that show Strange, the establishment favorite, trailing firebrand former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore by a double-digit margin.

Strange is trailing in spite of a hearty endorsement from President Trump and close to $10 million in outside spending from allies of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). Many Trump allies, including former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, are in Moore’s camp.

The race may be the first time that a Trump-endorsed candidate loses election since his nomination, and Republicans are widely concerned that it will pour fuel on the fire of the establishment-populist war already wracking the GOP.

Polls close at 8 p.m. ET in Alabama.

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In spite of his polarizing image and sagging approval ratings, President Trump has yet to suffer a major loss at the ballot box. That may change on Tuesday — because Trump embraced the establishment.

Trump called into the “Rick & Bubba Show” in Alabama on Monday morning to talk up appointed Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL), who’s facing off against hardline conservative and former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore (R) in Tuesday’s primary to fill out the Senate term of Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

I’m 5-0 in these races. And I want to keep it, I want to make it 6-0,” Trump bragged about his special election record since becoming president. “He is a good man. We can’t lose him.”

But it looks like that streak’s about to end. Every public survey of the campaign has found Moore in the lead, including a trio of polls released in recent days that show him with a double-digit edge. And while most strategists in the state think the contest is a bit closer than that and say Trump has helped Strange close that gap some in the race’s home stretch — “The race is close, it’s been closing,” Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), a Strange backer, told TPM on Monday — most also think that Moore is the odds-on favorite to win on Tuesday.

The conversation in Alabama today is what’s the margin of the Moore victory going to be, not who’s going to win,” said one Alabama GOP strategist who’s backing Strange in the race. “Trump is not a pied piper who is going to lead people blindly down a path.”

Strange has been dogged from the start by how he got the appointment in the first place. He was given the job by disgraced then-Gov. Robert Bentley (R), who had to resign shortly afterwards amidst a sex scandal. Strange had been the state’s attorney general at the time and in charge of investigating Bentley, and many see the appointment as fishy — something Trump himself admitted on Monday.

Because he was appointed by a little bit of a controversial guy I guess as I understand it, now it makes the race tough,” he said, shortly after blaming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) unpopularity as hurting his candidate in the race. 

And while Trump came in to help Strange in a Friday rally, he admitted during that speech that “I might have made a mistake” politically in backing the underdog in the race.

It’s clear the race hasn’t been Trump’s overriding focus — he twice referred to Moore as “Ray,” not Roy, in his Monday interview, and he spent almost as much time in his Alabama rally attacking NFL players who dared kneel during the national anthem as promoting Strange (and much more time in subsequent days). But a loss there will show the limits of his ability to move base conservatives, especially when he gets crossways with them.

While Trump’s endorsement has likely kept Strange in the race at all, Moore has benefitted from the backing of a constellation of big-name Trump supporters, from Breitbart head and former chief White House strategist Steve Bannon to former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) to Housing & Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson to Fox News host Sean Hannity.

They jumped on the bandwagon, but Moore has led the race from the start — equally because of his rabid base following and because of Strange’s issues.

And while whoever wins the primary will be the heavy favorite to replace Sessions, Democrats haven’t completely ruled out helping former State Attorney Doug Jones in the general election. Former Vice President Joe Biden is heading to the state to help his old friend, and national Democrats are taking a wait-and-see approach on whether he might be competitive against Moore given his penchant for comments that are polarizing even in Alabama.

The [National Republican Senatorial Committee] might have to spend money to protect this seat, which is crazy in my mind,” said Alabama GOP strategist Chris Brown, who ran another candidate’s campaign in the first round of the primary and is reluctantly voting for Strange. “This is not going to be a race we’ll stop talking about after this week.”

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Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) isn’t thrilled with how his close friend, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and others are trying to tweak their Obamacare repeal bill to buy off skeptical senators like him with more money for their states.

“It seems the bazaar is open, and that’s not the way to legislate. That flies in the face of everything I’ve been talking about and arguing for. ‘What would it take to get that vote — $10 billion, $15 billion?’ I mean, it’s unsavory,” McCain told TPM when asked about the changes to the bill Graham and Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) are pushing that would give more money to states like Alaska and Kentucky that are home to key swing votes on the bill.

McCain all but killed the bill when he announced his opposition on Friday, forcing those trying to win over reluctant supporters to try to buy off senators with big handouts for their states.

His comments were rather similar to what Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), another no vote and a senator McCain has long sparred with, had to say about the bill earlier in the afternoon (Paul called the buy-offs “unseemly”).

He laughed when TPM said that was the closest he’d sounded to Paul in a long time.

“Well, if you live long enough,” he said with a grin.

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Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) made clear he still isn’t anywhere close to backing Republicans’ latest attempt to repeal Obamacare — and called last-ditch efforts to add buy-offs for him and other no-leaning senators “unseemly.”

“If you’re going to say the whole country is short of money, which we are … everybody should get the same thing,” he told reporters Monday afternoon, ripping the last-second cash infusions Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) have made for states like Kentucky and Alaska, home of Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), a key undecided vote. “No, it doesn’t seem right.”

Paul made it clear he’s still strongly opposed to the bill, both because of the process and the policy.

“I’m just not for a trillion-dollar grant program that keeps most of the Obamacare spending,” he said. “This is thrown together sort of in a slipshod way … A lot of this is about electoral politics.”

And he made it clear the basic structure of the bill is unacceptable to him.

“In my mind a compromise does not include block grants,” he said. “I just don’t think this is repeal. … I believe that it represents Republicans accepting a trillion dollars of Obamacare spending.”

He and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) are both hard noes on the bill and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) is leaning no, enough to kill the bill, while Murkowski and a handful of other have expressed deep reservations.

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President Trump came a bit un-Moored during a Monday morning radio interview, screwing up the name of the man who’s most likely to be Alabama’s next senator.

The president called into a radio show Monday morning to sing the praises of appointed Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL), who he stumped for on Friday night. But he showed a clear unfamiliarity with his opponent, former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore — twice referring to him as “Ray” in the interview.

According to AL.com, Trump told radio hosts Rick and Bubba that Strange “is going to be a great senator” who will coast in the general election.

“Ray will have a hard time. If Luther wins, the Democrats will hardly fight. If Ray wins [Democrats] will pour in $30 million,” he continued.

When host Rick Burgess clarified that Moore’s first name was Roy, Trump replied that it’s “not a good sign” for Moore that he didn’t know his name.

“I don’t know that much about Roy Moore,” Trump continued. “Roy Moore is going to have a very hard time getting elected against the Democrat. Against Luther, they won’t even fight.”

Moore has led Strange, the establishment pick, in every single public poll of the race. And while Trump’s endorsement and last-minute campaign appearance for Strange have breathed some life into Strange’s campaign, a number of Trump allies including Steve Bannon have jumped on Moore’s bandwagon. Trump agreed to back Strange after heavy lobbying from Senate Republicans including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

Alabama strategists view Moore as the clear favorite heading into Tuesday’s primary.

Host Rick Burgess told AL.com that he wouldn’t have corrected the president — “But when he said it twice, I had to say something.”

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If politics makes strange bedfellows, Ben Carson might be sleeping on the couch after his latest move.

The Secretary of Housing and Urban Development all but endorsed fellow religious conservative and former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore on Friday, just hours before President Trump is set to stump for Moore’s primary opponent, appointed Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL). The two are squaring off for the right to serve out Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ old Senate term.

It’s not exactly a common occurrence for a sitting cabinet member to get involved to help a candidate whose primary opponent is backed by their boss.

“Judge Moore is a fine man of proven character and integrity, who I have come to respect over the years. I was delighted to hear he is running for the US Senate. He is truly someone who reflects the Judeo-Christian values that were so important to the establishment of our country,” Carson said in a statement released by Moore’s campaign. “It is these values that we must return to in order to make America great again. I wish him well and hope everyone will make sure they vote on Tuesday.”

Trump will hold a Friday night rally for Strange in Huntsville, and Vice President Mike Pence is set to stump with him on Monday.

Carson is arguably the highest-profile Trump ally to back Moore against the president — though he’s far from the only one. Former White House aides Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka are in the tank for Moore, as are former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R), an early endorser, and a number of other Trump allies.

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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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