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. Susan Collins (R-ME) raised heightened concerns about Judge Brett Kavanaugh following the newest allegations of sexual misconduct against him during a private luncheon with other Republican senators on Wednesday, according to CNN.

The senator, a key swing vote on the nomination, brought in a printed out copy of the signed affidavit to the luncheon, and sources told CNN she was visibly unnerved by the latest allegations, and questioned why Kavanaugh’s high school friend Mark Judge hadn’t been subpoenaed to testify about the allegations.

Julie Swetnick wrote a sworn statement to the Senate Judiciary committee on Wednesday claiming she’d seen Kavanaugh commit sexual misconduct at more than 10 parties while they were in high school, and that he was present at a party where she was raped.

“Obviously I take it seriously and believe that it should be investigated by the committee,” Collins told reporters of the new allegation earlier in the day. “My understanding is the committee’s investigators have already made a request.”

As TPM reported earlier, GOP lawmakers were grim as they exited the meeting, and took a more subdued tone towards the upcoming hearings than they had earlier.

Republicans can’t lose more than one of their own on the Kavanaugh vote if all Democrats vote against him. Collins and Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) appear to be the most likely defectors.

Read More →

A day after making calling the allegations of sexual assault against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh “even more absurd” than the ones Anita Hill made a generation ago against Clarence Thomas, Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) is seeking to clean up his remarks — without walking away from his view that the allegations are “absurd.”

“The question I was answering was how the current accusation against Brett Kavanaugh by Christine Blasey Ford compared to the Anita Hill accusation against Clarence Thomas,” Cramer said in a statement to TPM Saturday afternoon. “The point of my answer was that the current allegations were even more absurd. At the time, there was a sense of legitimacy to what Anita Hill was saying, but it is hard not to be skeptical considering the timing and history of the allegation Brett Kavanaugh is facing. Of course, any allegation of this nature should be taken seriously, but absent significant evidence being brought forth immediately, I feel Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation process should proceed.”

Cramer, a top Senate candidate facing Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), doesn’t exactly back away from the thrust of remarks made Friday on a local radio show that Ford’s accusations against Kavanaugh are “absurd.” But he steers away from his earlier remarks dismissing her accusations even if they were true “because these people were teenagers” and because “it was supposedly an attempt or something that never went anywhere,” in an attempt to walk back his earlier mockery of the details of the claim itself.

His Friday comments, surfaced by TPM and CNN, triggered an immediate firestorm in the political world.

They also drew a sharp rebuke from Heitkamp’s campaign.

“His comments were disturbing and representative of a bigger issue Congressman Cramer has with respecting women and victims of assault or abuse. As a public official elected by the people of our state, he owes North Dakotans answers on his deeply troubling views regarding sexual assault,” Heitkamp campaign manager Libby Schneider said in a Saturday statement. “Regardless of one’s opinion on the Supreme Court nominee, allegations of sexual assault should never be trivialized or diminished – as Congressman Cramer did yesterday. To insinuate that an assault shouldn’t be taken seriously because it ‘never really went anywhere’ is as dangerous as it is offensive. It’s unfortunate that this even needs to be said, but clearly it does – sexual assault is never OK.”

They risk damaging Cramer’s campaign even in the deep red state. The candidate has led Heitkamp in most recent public and private polling, but Democrats hope gaffes like this give her a chance to claw her way back to the lead.

The Senate Judiciary Committee and Ford continue to negotiate on whether and when she’ll testify, though the most recent tentative agreement has her and Kavanaugh up on the hill on Wednesday.

Read More →

Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND), the GOP Senate nominee, said Friday that giving credence to allegations that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted a young woman when they were teenagers is “absurd.”

Cramer sounded off on professor Christine Blasey Ford’s claim that Brett Kavanaugh drunkenly sexually assaulted her when she was 15 and he was 17 during a radio interview, describing them as “even more absurd” than Anita Hill’s accusations that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her because of Kavanaugh’s age at the time and because it was “an attempt or something that never went anywhere.”

“This case is even more absurd because these people were teenagers when this supposed, alleged incident took place. Teenagers. Not a boss, supervisor-subordinate situation as the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill situation was claimed to be,” he said during an appearance on KNOX. “These are teenagers who evidently were drunk according to her own, her own statements. They were drunk when it evidently happened… even by her own accusation. Again, it was supposedly an attempt or something that never went anywhere. So you just have to wonder.”

Cramer’s comments could hurt him as he seeks to defeat Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) this fall. Strategists in both parties believe Cramer currently leads in the race, making him the Republican candidate most likely to become a senator next term in Congress, but Democrats believe Heitkamp is still within striking distance. Heitkamp has yet to say how she’ll vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court.

Cramer’s comments also make him the latest high-profile Republican to shrug off Blasey Ford’s claims of sexual assault due to Kavanaugh’s age when the alleged assault took place, and minimize the severity of what he is accused of doing — what Blasey Ford’s attorney said she believes was “attempted rape.”

President Trump himself took to Twitter on Friday morning to question why she hadn’t reported the incident to the police at the time that it happened. Other Republicans have gone even further, including Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), who rolled his eyes at the accusation because the alleged incident occurred when they were in high school, and Rep. Ralph Norman (R-SC), who joked that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had accused President Abraham Lincoln of groping her.

Setting everything else he said aside, Cramer’s description of Blasey Ford’s accusations are factually incorrect. She told the Washington Post last Sunday that Kavanaugh and his friend who was in the room with them were “stumbling drunk” but that she and the others at the party had one beer apiece.

Cramer’s campaign didn’t respond to a request for comment on his remarks.

Heitkamp took a dim view of her opponent’s comments.

“Congressman Cramer’s comments are disturbing and they don’t reflect the values of North Dakota,” she said in a statement to TPM Friday evening.

Here’s the audio of what Cramer said — the quoted remarks start at around 4 minutes and 30 seconds in, though it’s worth listening to his full comments.

Here is his full quote, after being asked about former Vice President Joe Biden’s recent apology for how he handled the Anita Hill hearings in 1991:

“I suspect what he means is that we should never have let Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court like we did. Thank God they did because what an incredible man of justice and character and and you know, a testimony to the, to the American dream. This wonderful minority black man with a brilliant mind and an incredible background. What an incredible testimony he’s been to the resilience of the American spirit. So if that’s what he means yeah, great point. They shouldn’t have done what they did. But I would even say this, this is where this one’s different. If to the degree there was a legitimacy to Anita Hill’s claims, and she tried and didn’t prevail, Clarence Thomas did and America did. This case is even more absurd because these people were teenagers when this supposed, alleged incident took place. Teenagers. Not a boss, supervisor-subordinate situation as the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill situation was claimed to be. These are teenagers who evidently were drunk according to her own, her own statements. They were drunk when it evidently happened… even by her own accusation. Again, it was supposedly an attempt or something that never went anywhere. So you just have to wonder. Here’s what I worry about and maybe this could be my final word on unless you have another question, but what I worry about is why would any good person ever put themselves forward to be a judge an Appellate Court Judge, Supreme Court justice, frankly a member of Congress or the United States Senate, the governor, anything else, if this is the new standard, you know, roll out an accusation that, that no one else can corroborate and we believe the accuser without appropriate due process, it’s going to get it very difficult to get good people to do these jobs. It’s going to be the standard if you have to have a perfect record in junior high and high school.”

This story was updated at 9:10 p.m. to include Heitkamp’s response.

Read More →

The National Republican Congressional Committee has canceled its remaining TV ad reservations for vulnerable Rep. Keith Rothfus (R-PA), TPM has confirmed, making him the first GOP incumbent the party has officially abandoned as it looks to save its House majority.

Rothfus is facing off against Rep. Conor Lamb (D-PA) in a swing district in the Pittsburgh suburbs, and has been viewed as an underdog in the race for some time.

But the national GOP’s decision to walk away from him marks the beginning of a new period for the campaign. The NRCC had until this point refused to give up on any of its incumbents in spite of a bleak national climate. That’s a tough conversation to have with any loyal foot soldier who can’t win their race but a necessary one to save valuable and scarce resources better used on races that can still be saved.

This move doesn’t come as a huge shock, but it could be a new inflection point for the NRCC. Other incumbent Republicans who strategists have privately said might be beyond saving include Reps. Barbara Comstock (R-VA) and Erik Paulsen (R-MN). The NRCC never placed a TV reservation for Rep. Rod Blum (R-IA), another member many strategists view as a goner.

The GOP ad-purchasing firm Medium Buying, which tracks campaign ad reservations, originally reported the cancellations. Two sources confirmed the cancellation to TPM.

Read More →

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) seems to think it’s ridiculous that allegations of teenage sexual assault against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh have become a part of the discussions over his confirmation.

“George Orwell, he was so incredibly insightful and could see what’s going to happen. But that’s the challenge you’re going to have. At least I didn’t have to deal with that,” he said. “Look at right now. This guy who’s going to be our Supreme Court justice, and he better be our Supreme Court judge, he’s a perfect candidate, and what do they say? ‘Well, in high school you did this.’ High school? Give me a break.”

An audio recording of Rohrabacher comments was shared with TPM and appears from context to have been made last Saturday at a campaign event with supporters, after the details of the accusation had been made public but before California-based professor Christine Blasey Ford agreed to identify herself in a Sunday interview with the Washington Post in which she accused Kavanaugh of drunkenly sexually assaulting her when the two of them were in high school.

Rohrabacher’s campaign didn’t respond to multiple requests for clarification as to when the event took place or about the remarks themselves. Rohrabacher’s wife and campaign manager Rhonda seemed to hang up the phone after this reporter identified himself as working for TPM during a brief conversation Wednesday morning. Subsequent calls went straight to voicemail, and she didn’t respond to text messages.

The iconoclastic congressman is a close ally of President Trump as well as Russia. He’s facing the toughest campaign of his career in an Orange County district that was once solidly Republican but has moved hard towards the center in recent years.

His comments seemed to be addressed at younger volunteers, and were made during longer remarks warning about Orwellian monitoring of private communications.

Rohrabacher said that a few years from now “every phone call you make, every deal you make, every time you click something up on your word processor, or your home computer, they’re going to have records of this. And then the bad guys are determining what’s hate speech and what’s not. And if you’re sending something over the internet or Facebook and they determine that it’s hateful, and of course anything that disagrees with their anti-American philosophy is hateful.”

He then transitioned into the aside about Kavanaugh.

The full audio of the event can be heard below, with his relevant remarks beginning around the nine-minute mark:

Rohrabacher also took swipes at “American liberal left politicians,” claiming that they long have been and will continue to “undermine things that make our country strong because they don’t believe in our country.”

As examples, he mentioned the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA), and included the last two Democratic nominees for president.

“Obama was not a patriot. Obama and his gang don’t like the United States. Hillary did not like the United States. And what we’ve got is we’ve got an academe now that’s teaching these young people what’s wrong with us and they’re being taught to hate us,” he said at the top of his remarks.

The event appears to have taken place on Saturday, as the audio of the remarks must have occurred in recent days to include discussion of the accusations against Kavanaugh. Rohrabacher held a campaign grill-out for volunteers on Saturday, and on the audio recording there is discussion of the barbecue.

Here’s the flier advertising that event:

Read More →

Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) will remain on the ballot this November, a Republican source with knowledge of his decision tells TPM, a blow to the GOP’s hopes of holding onto a seat once viewed as safely Republican.

The move comes after a month of legal wrangling in which Collins, who’s under indictment for insider trading, sought to get off the ballot and give another Republican a chance to hold the seat for the party this fall.

But the deadline to remove himself had passed — and Collins’ change of heart and decision not to cooperate with local Republicans leaves them stuck with the indicted congressman as their candidate.

“At this point they’d have to accept and cooperate with any plans they’d put in place. They’ve chosen not to do so,” Erie County Republican Chairman Nick Langworthy said in a Monday press conference. “I’m disappointed.”

With Collins on the ballot, Democrats have a serious shot at winning a conservative upstate New York district that President Trump carried by a 25-point margin just two years ago, the latest headache for the GOP. Republican strategists privately concede that their chances of hanging onto House control are slim.

The Buffalo News first reported Collins’ decision.

Read More →

Judge Brett Kavanaugh indicated Monday that he is willing to return to the Senate to testify about newly surfaced allegations that he sexually assaulted and attempted to rape a girl when he was in high school, even as he called the allegation “completely false.”

The new statement comes after Christine Blasey Ford came forward on Sunday to publicly accuse Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her while they were in high school. The contents of a private letter she’d written about the event to her congresswoman had earlier leaked to the public. On Monday morning, her attorney said she’s be willing to testify to the Senate.

Kavanaugh was spotted at the White House Monday by CNN.

It remains to be seen whether Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans will agree to delay a planned Thursday vote to move Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination to the full Senate floor — or whether Kavanaugh and Ford will be brought back to testify in public in front of the committee. Committe Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) has indicated the committee is full steam ahead, though some other Senate Republicans have begun to make noises that it should be delayed and that Ford and Kavanaugh should be brought back to testify publicly.

Here’s the full statement from Kavanaugh, released by the White House Monday morning:

“This is a completely false allegation. I have never done anything like what the accuser describes—to her or to anyone.

“Because this never happened, I had no idea who was making this accusation until she identified herself yesterday.

“I am willing to talk to the Senate Judiciary Committee in any way the Committee deems appropriate to refute this false allegation, from 36 years ago, and defend my integrity.”

Read More →

With 50 days from the midterm elections, the likelihood that Democrats flip the House has never been higher. And for the first time in the cycle, strategists in both parties are seriously contemplating the prospect that the Senate could change hands as well.

In interviews with a dozen House and Senate strategists of both parties granted anonymity to speak candidly, there has been a notable uptick in Democratic confidence and Republican concern about the battlefield for both sides of Congress in the last few weeks.

Top Republicans working on House races concede that holding the chamber is a steep uphill battle.

“The House is probably lost,” one GOP strategist involved in a number of House races told TPM, putting the odds of his party holding the chamber at “20 percent at best — and that’s being generous.”

We’re almost mathematically eliminated from the majority in the House already,” said another senior Republican strategist.

And while Democrats admit their path to a Senate majority remains a narrow one, some Republicans now acknowledge that it could indeed happen.

I still think we hold the Senate — but I’m not as sure,” said one GOP strategist. 

The further erosion of Republicans’ hopes in recent weeks come as much because their dire situation hasn’t improved in the past few months as anything — and time for a major shift their way is running out. But things have grown somewhat worse for them at both the macro level and in particular races in recent weeks, with President Trump dragging his party down and Democrats on offense on both health care and taxes.

Trump’s poll numbers have fallen further into toxic territory for his party in the past few weeks, with his approval ratings slipping back down into the high 30s in many recent polls — his worst standing since last spring. That’s led to a double-digit Democratic lead in the generic congressional ballot, above the 7 percent threshold most strategists believe is the rough line at which Democrats should take the House.

Trump’s downturn came in the wake of heavy coverage of the guilty plea from his former fixer, Michael Cohen, and the guilty verdict against former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, whose decision Friday to plead guilty and cooperate with the FBI probe into Trump’s campaign won’t help any.

That comes after two major inflection points against Trump already occurred over the summer: His decision to separate migrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border and his disastrous Vladimir Putin-hugging press conference in Helsinki.

There were two big polling points where there was a huge shift against us: Post-Helsinki and after separating children at the borders. Trump did that to us,” said one House GOP strategist. “If Trump goes any lower, we’re losing a lot more people.”

Dems In Command For House Control

Republicans concede that the House is likely lost — a view supported by a bevy of recent public and private polling, as well as the national parties’ and super-PACs’ spending decisions.

There are almost a dozen open GOP-held House seats that Republicans are essentially admitting with their spending decisions they can’t win, getting Democrats roughly half way to the 23 seats they need to retake House control.

And some recent House polling backs up the theory that suburban Republicans are in for an absolute bloodbath on election day.

Reps. Mike Coffman (R-CO) and Erik Paulsen (R-MN) have trailed badly in recent public polls, numbers that track internal surveys. GOP strategists privately concede that they’re unlikely to be able to bounce back in their Democratic-leaning districts, joining Reps. Barbara Comstock (R-VA) and Rod Blum (R-IA) as incumbent Republicans that face daunting odds at returning to Congress. And they say the fact that the two battle-tested veterans appear cooked is a very bad sign for the map as a whole.

“When you have the guys who are doing everything right in trouble, that’s a really bad sign,” said one House Republican strategist.

More than a dozen other Republican incumbents are already essentially tied with their Democratic opponents in public and private polls — a tough place to be for incumbents with higher name recognition than their challengers. And while Trump’s standing has badly tarnished his party, Republicans’ major policies aren’t helping either. Democrats are running more ads on the GOP tax cuts than Republicans, a sign that it’s not the political winner GOP leaders had hoped for, and Democrats are heavily advertising on Republicans’ aborted attempts to repeal Obamacare.

The one thing Republicans have going for them right now is money, and they’ve looked to leverage that early to keep their hopes of holding onto Congress alive. The Congressional Leadership Fund, the GOP’s main House super-PAC, was the first group to go on air in 21 House districts, and believes it’s helped stabilize floundering incumbents like Reps. Andy Barr (R-KY), Claudia Tenney (R-NY) and Leonard Lance (R-NJ), giving them a chance to bounce back and win.

The group has also unleashed some brutal ads highlighting Democrats’ personal problems, a move that could disqualify some new candidates. But while those attacks will likely save some seats, for every race Republican strategists think they’ve gotten a handle on two more keep popping up that have them breaking into a cold sweat.

Some district-by-district polling gives Republicans a bit more hope that they can hang onto particular seats they’re worried about. But the overall picture looks grim for the GOP.

The Senate Looks Swingable

Democrats still face a brutal Senate map that by all rights should lead to major GOP gains: They have 10 senators running for reelection in states Trump won to just one Republican in a state Trump lost, and four of those Democrats come from ruby-red territory. They need just about everything to go right to have a chance at winning the Senate. Right now, they think that just might happen — and Republicans are worried they might be right.

“I hope when the smoke clears, we’ll still have a majority in the Senate,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) told reporters last week.

Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Bob Casey (D-PA) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) are all sailing to reelection in states Trump won. Sens. Jon Tester (D-MT) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) remain on both parties’ radars (and on their ad spending lists) because of the heavily Republican nature of their states, but both hold comfortable leads over flawed GOP opponents in public and private polls.

The core Senate battlefield really comes down to seven states at this point, all of which are basically margin-of-error contests that could go either way. Democrats hope to pick up seats in Nevada, Arizona and Tennessee, while Republicans are seriously targeting North Dakota, Missouri, Indiana and Florida. If Democrats can sweep their pickup opportunities and lose just one incumbent, they’ll be in the majority.

Even six weeks ago, Republicans had remained supremely confident that wouldn’t happen. They were bullish on defeating Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Joe Donnelly (D-IN) and Bill Nelson (D-FL), and skeptical they could lose Tennessee. But recent public and private polls indicate Donnelly and Nelson are clinging to narrow leads, former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen (D) is tied or slightly leading Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) in most public and private surveys, and McCaskill is in dogfight with Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley (R) in a race Republicans had hoped they would have a lead in at this point.

Republicans are confident only about defeating Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), who has trailed in every GOP poll this year. But Democrats think even she could still win, believing she trails by just a few points and has rallied a bit in recent weeks.

And while Republicans think Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) could still survive his reelection fight, strategists on both sides think he’s more likely than not to lose his race.

The biggest shifts in Senate races over the last six weeks or so have occurred in Arizona and Florida, with a perception shift in Indiana towards Democrats.

In Arizona, Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ) has gotten a decent post-primary bump, and Republicans think their attacks on Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) for her past left-wing activism before she moved to the center during her time in the House are paying dividends. Sinema had held a lead all campaign, but the race is essentially tied now.

In Florida, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum’s (D) gubernatorial primary win gives Democrats a candidate on the ticket who will fire up progressives, African Americans and college students in a way Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) never could, and Nelson has opened up a tiny lead over Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) even though Scott has badly outspent him on the race. President Trump’s recent claim that 3,000 Puerto Ricans didn’t die in Hurricane Maria sure didn’t help either, as Scott has tried to make inroads with the state’s large and growing Boricua population.

One top Republican predicted wins in Arizona, Tennessee and North Dakota, but said, “That’s probably where it stops. Maybe we pick up Missouri or Indiana or all of Rick Scott’s hard work pays off, but I just don’t know.”

That would leave the GOP in control of the Senate by two seats. But Democrats could quite plausibly win two or even all three of those races at this point.

While Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) remains favored over Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX), Republicans have recently been sounding the alarm bells about his race’s competitiveness. They privately concede their public worries may be more a tactical move to boost Cruz’s fundraising in case he does face a tough home stretch, but strategists in both parties think the race has a small chance to become seriously competitive in the race’s final weeks.

Democrats are also keeping an eye on Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), whose ethics problems and a big-spending opponent have them a bit concerned.

Democrats are still the underdogs for Senate control, and the high number of essentially tied seats means their chances of losing ground may be as likely as them capturing the chamber. But in past years, most close races tend to break towards one party or the other on Election Day. That could mean Republicans end up netting a seat or two — but it could also give Democrats the narrowest of majorities in the Senate.

“We’ve held the pieces together through Labor Day. If we can hold the pieces together for another two months this could happen,” said one Senate Democratic strategist. “I still wouldn’t call us favorites, we’ve got to hit an inside straight here, but it’s entirely possible.”

Read More →