McConnell and Pelosi’s next battle: How to help the 40 million unemployed

The debate over whether Congress will approve a new round of pandemic aid is over. Now it’s just a question of what’s in the package.

After brushing off Democrats’ demands for more relief, Senate Republicans now say the next major coronavirus package is likely to move in the coming weeks. And a key conflict ahead will be over how to help the 40 million Americans out of work.

The shift comes as the state of the economy grows worse and more GOP senators call for action. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is already making clear Republicans will not support an extension of the extra unemployment benefits Congress passed in March. GOP lawmakers say the additional aid — which expires at the end of July — provides a disincentive to return to work and some are now proposing alternatives they can rally behind.

Democrats counter that Congress must extend benefits for the millions struggling to pay bills as the U.S. faces its most uncertain economic climate in generations. Regular unemployment insurance, they note, covers just half of workers’ pay on average.

In fact, some top Democrats want to go further. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) is eyeing a push to automatically tie unemployment benefits to the condition of the economy, according to a Senate aide — a move that has not been previously reported. Supporters of the automatic stabilizer idea, which Speaker Nancy Pelosi has also publicly endorsed, say it would avoid the political wrangling that could otherwise threaten to hold up much-needed aid.

The divide over jobless benefits is likely to surface as one of the biggest flashpoints for McConnell and Pelosi as they lead their parties in talks on the next major aid bill. The outcome will determine not just how much help goes to the roughly 1-in-4 unemployed Americans but how the parties can position themselves in a fierce campaign where Congress and the White House are up for grabs.

McConnell said in Louisville over the Senate's Memorial Day recess that he is “still in favor of unemployment insurance,” but he strongly criticized the additional $600 each week unemployed workers get under the CARES Act, which he said hampered certain industries’ abilities to bring back workers as the economy reopens.

“What I thought was a mistake was the bonus we added that small businesses all over the country are saying make it more lucrative to not work than to work. That’s exactly the opposite of what we want to do,” McConnell said. The GOP leader also vowed to end enhanced unemployment benefits on a recent call with House Republicans.

Democrats, however, have been adamant that Congress can’t cut off that economic lifeline.

“They’ve said that they don't want workers to get this money that they need to pay rent and groceries,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who negotiated the unemployment provisions in the March package, argued in an interview. “It expires July 31. And we'll see if they want all those workers hurting all summer long.”

The debate over the government’s role in supporting unemployed workers comes amid the worst economy since the Great Depression and as every state has begun a gradual reopening of its economy.

Some businesses — particularly in industries like food service — are struggling to bring back workers whose pre-pandemic salaries don’t match their current unemployment benefits. Other workers have complained that their previous pay isn’t enough to justify the risk of working as a virus that has killed more than 100,000 people continues to spread.

The enhanced unemployment benefits nearly tripped up the $2 trillion coronavirus relief package just hours before it was passed by the Senate in March. Several Republicans, led by Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), threatened to hold up the bill because of the provision, which Schumer called “unemployment insurance on steroids.”

Now even Republicans who were initially open to the boost in benefits are showing little interest in extending them.

“Future coronavirus relief legislation must provide a better system to help make people whole, but not receive more through unemployment compensation than they were previously earning,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said in a statement.

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 20: Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) arrives for a meeting with a select group of Senate Republicans, Senate Democrats, and Trump administration officials in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill March 20, 2020 in Washington, DC. The small group of lawmakers and officials are in negotiations about the phase 3 coronavirus stimulus bill, which leaders say they hope to have passed by Monday. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Collins was one of only two Senate Republicans alongside Cory Gardner of Colorado to oppose a Sasse amendment to cap benefits at workers’ previous salary. The Maine Republican, referring to her state’s Department of Labor, said that at the time she was “informed by both the Treasury Department and the Maine DOL that the only way to quickly begin administering expanded benefits was through a flat rate increase.“ But now, she said “states have had sufficient time to adjust“ their unemployment insurance systems.

In a sign that lawmakers are now eager to spur an economic recovery rather than just extend a lifeline, members of both parties have introduced legislation recently to boost employment with “return to work” proposals.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) is pushing to have the federal government subsidize business’ payrolls during the pandemic. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) has a proposal that would provide workers with an additional $450 a week bonus on top of their current wages as an incentive to go back to work — an idea that has caught the White House’s attention.

“We need policies that encourage those individuals that can to return to the workplace to help get our economy going again,” Portman said in a statement. Top White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow said recently on Fox News that Portman’s plan is “a good idea” and “something we're looking at very carefully.”

Even as Democrats back an extension of the benefits for those out of work, many also advocate for more aggressive plans to save jobs.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) has a proposal supported by moderates and liberals in the Democratic caucus — as well as Schumer — to dramatically expand the employee retention tax credit. A similar provision, from Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.), was backed by the House.

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 30: Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) returns to the Senate floor following a recess in the Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump on January 30, 2020 in Washington, DC. The trial has entered into the second day of the question phase where Senators have the opportunity to submit written questions to the House managers and President Trump's defense team. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

Warner said in an interview there could be "some collaboration" between his proposal and Portman's, in a sign that some consensus could be found when bipartisan talks begin in earnest.

“A lot of what we’re focused on is those employees who at this point have been furloughed, how you reconnect them, but recognizing there may be some additional time before business generates enough to bring the employee back,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Labor Department is strongly encouraging state unemployment agencies to ask employers whether unemployment insurance benefit recipients refuse to return to work. Under federal rules, once workers accept unemployment benefits, they must take any suitable job offer or will become ineligible, although states have some flexibility in implementing work search requirements.

Most Democrats in the House and Senate have argued that the additional jobless benefits should last beyond the summer. A bill approved by House Democrats earlier this month would extend the extra $600 in assistance through January of next year.

“We are just seeing record-breaking unemployment rates and so many people signing up for it, it breaks your heart. But we have the unemployment insurance that will be renewed in this legislation,” Pelosi said of the House’s recently passed Heroes Act.

Democrats have also argued that lower-income Americans are often hit harder by the economic fallout. Nearly 40 percent of people with a household income below $40,000 lost their job in March, according to a Federal Reserve survey last month.

That compares to just 13 percent of people who made over $100,000 who lost their job over the same period.

Still there are a small number of moderate Democrats — particularly from areas of the country that appear to be suffering more from the recession than from the virus itself — that have privately opposed calls to extend enhanced unemployment benefits. Those Democrats say they’ve heard from employers in their district that are struggling to bring workers back who earn more on unemployment.

“This is an example of where there are two truths,” said Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.), who supports renewing the aid and has closely studied the effects on small businesses.

“One truth is that yes, the $600 amplification is going to complicate things for many businesses to re-attract their employees. That is a fair assessment,” he said. “But the other truth is that we have a problem in our country with people struggling to put food on their tables and a roof over their head.”

Rebecca Rainey contributed to this report.

Posted in Uncategorized

Donald Trump will use this moment to fan the flames of hatred, just like every other moment

With reports that white supremacists instigators are behind instances of violence at protests across the nation, with the military standing by to take control of the streets, and with Donald Trump tweeting out that the blame for violence entirely lies with the “radical left,” it raises an obvious question: Is this Trump’s Reichstag fire moment? Is this the point at which Trump uses the events of the news cycle to justify the destruction of democratic institutions and the sitting aside of legal protections, in the name of racism, divisiveness, and hate?

The answer is no … and also yes. Because for Donald Trump, every moment is a Reichstag fire moment. Every moment is an excuse for hate. Every moment is an opportunity to erode civil liberties. Every moment is a chance to consolidate authoritarian control. Trump lives in Reichstag fire mode 24/7, and his election started the fire that is burning down the nation.

Just a month after Adolph Hitler was sworn into power, an arson attack on the home of the German parliament was swiftly blamed on “communist agitators” and used as an excuse to silence, imprison, or murder those whose political positions fell to the left of Nazism. But many historians believe, based on very good evidence, that the fire was actually set by the Nazis themselves, to provide justification for going after other political parties. 

Since Trump’s election, there has been a continual concern about what might serve as his Reichstag fire moment. What might Trump used as a casus belli on democracy? The answer is everything.

Investigating the over 100 connections between his campaign and Russian officials was a Reichstag fire. Impeachment was a Reichstag fire. Actually exercising democracy by keeping Republicans out of control in the House in the 2018 election was definitely a Reichstag fire. But her emails was a Reichstag fire, James Comey was a Reichstag fire, Robert Mueller and unmasking that never happened and the World Health Organization and studies that come out against hydroxychloroquine are all Reichstag fires. 

For Trump, the Reichstag fire isn’t an event, it’s a way of life. It’s how he governs every day—from a place that seeks to lever open racial, social, and political gaps for the purposes of furthering his own power.

So of course Trump will treat the protests against police violence are a Reichstag fire. He will make, as he always seems to, some offhand claim to seeking unity—in this case by calling the family of George Floyd—but when that action isn’t immediately greeted with universal praise and a special Nobel Prize minted in his honor, he will flip around to use this moment as an assault on everything who isn’t one of his “very fine people.” Even if those very fine people turn out to be the root cause of violence.

Trump has spent a lifetime dehumanizing Black people, from denying them apartments in the 1970s to taking out a full page ad calling for the death of five Black teenagers, to repeated that desire for blood shed long after he knew those teenagers were wrongfully accused. Racism is in Trump. To the bone. On top of this, Trump has used the language of “enemy of the people” in describing the media. In just the last week, he retweeted a message saying that the “only good Democrat is a dead Democrat,” and he spent the morning defending white supremacists.

Is this a Reichstag fire moment? Of course it is. Just like every moment, of every day, watching democratic institutions wither and die under Donald Trump. 

Trump keeps screwing everything up and it’s killing him in the battleground states

This is the current national state of play with Donald Trump as he faces his worst job ratings in two years: 

It’s a legit roadmap of the 2020 presidential election.

Here's the current electoral map picture: 

It’s a little confusing, since the color blue in the first map “approves of Trump,” while in the second map it means the exact opposite. But it’s still not too hard to sort out: Blue states really don’t like Trump. Red states like Trump. There are the edge-case states—states that are evenly divided on the question, but aren’t current battlegrounds (Iowa, Montana, New Mexico, Ohio, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah). And then there are the seven battlegrounds—all states that voted for Trump in 2016, and all states in which his numbers are currently net-negative. 

Approve DisapproVe net Arizona Florida Georgia Michigan North Carolina Pennsylvania Wisconsin
42 56 -14
46 51 -5
45 51 -6
42 55 -13
45 53 -8
44 52 -8
45 53 -8

Arizona continues to surprise. Who would’ve thought it looks better for presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden than Pennsylvania does? And worse for Trump, his numbers are trending even lower. For example, let’s look at Arizona: 

Since the coronavirus pandemic hit, Trump has gone from -10 net favorables in Arizona, to -14. Arizona has around 4 million registered voter. Going from -10 to -14 net favorability means that around 160,000 Arizona voters changed their mind about Trump. 

Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema won the state by just 56,000 votes in 2018. Democrats picked up the secretary of state office by 20,000 votes. These shifts in public opinion may seem small, but in a tight battleground state, every point matters. And it should be noted, the shift in job approvals in Arizona started during the impeachment hearings. They really did set the stage. 

Let’s look at Florida: 

Florida is Florida, balanced on a razor’s edge, but once again, impeachment took a bite out of Trump, and the pandemic is further widening the split. Looking at Michigan, however, and impeachment didn’t leave any mark, but the pandemic is: 

Click around and see for yourself, but the virus is having an impact in every one of these battleground states. (In every state, actually, but only the battlegrounds are close enough for it to matter.) This is the reason much of the battleground polling lately has been so gaudy-good for Joe Biden and Democratic down-ballot candidates (like the recent Civiqs surveys out of North Carolina and Georgia. Even South Carolina looked better than 2016 numbers).

Will it stay that way? We can’t assume that, of course. It helps us that Trump isn’t trying to actually win new voters. The a-hole is running ads mocking Biden for wearing a mask, when 72% of Americans support wearing masks. He's playing to his peanut gallery. He’s certainly not trying to minimize the continued death toll, having given up entirely on the matter. He’d rather pretend everything is fine so states open up as quickly and as fully as possible. And while some renewed economic activity is inevitable as restrictions loosen up, that still won’t save tens of millions of jobs before November. 

So will Trump be able to recapture that support he’s recently lost? It’s possible! The charts obviously do show their up-and-down fluctuations over the last four years. A skilled, capable, compassionate, and focused leader could certainly manage to parlay this crisis into broad popular support. President George W. Bush hit 90% approvals after 9/11, despite having ignored a report that literally warned that al-Qaida was about to strike the nation. The public wants to rally around their leader in a crisis. 

Trump isn’t skilled or compassionate or capable. He’s a barely functioning adult. And this crisis has made it harder and harder for people to cling to the notion that Trump is actually a good president. 

It’s hard for people to admit that their sincerely held beliefs were wrong. And politics is now akin to religion—part of one’s self-identity. Leaving the Republican Party is like leaving a cult. Not everyone can manage it. And yet, it’s happening. It happened in 2018, with suburban white women testing the waters, and the water was fine! Newly re-minted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wasn’t the boogeyman! She ended up being nothing like that asshole in the Senate, Mitch McConnell. 

And now it’s time to leave the Cult of MAGA, and it’s happening, little by little, inch by inch. It’s been enough to spot Biden a clear lead in the Electoral College, it has been enough to deprive Trump of an expanded map, it has been enough to create two new battleground states in previously red (and solidly red!) Arizona and Georgia. 

Can Trump reverse that trend? Sure, it’s within the realm of possibility, but no, he won’t. He can’t. He probably doesn’t even want to. 

Rep. Demings slams police killings as a ‘stain on our country’

Rep. Val Demings, one of several women being vetted to be Joe Biden’s running mate and a former Orlando police chief, urged a nationwide review of police practices in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, whose death after he was detained by Minneapolis police has sparked protests there for the past week.

In the blistering op-ed in The Washington Post, Demings (D-Fla.), who is black, outlined her professional origins as a police officer, detailing her pride and love for the job. But she slammed police violence against men and women of color, calling their actions a “stain on our country” and asking her fellow police officers bluntly: “What the hell are you doing?”

The op-ed was published after a third consecutive day of unrest in Minneapolis, where protesters set fire to a police precinct and other local businesses. Protests in Minneapolis began to erupt on Tuesday, a day after Floyd’s death.

In her Post op-ed, Demings emphasized the outsize amount of power and responsibility police hold, writing that “when citizens were in trouble (if they had to call the police, they weren’t having a good day), they called really believing that when we arrived, things would get better.

“But we are painfully reminded that all too often, things do not get better. Matter of fact, they can get much worse — with deadly results,” she continued. “When an officer engages in stupid, heartless and reckless behavior, their actions can either take a life or change a life forever. Bad decisions can bring irrevocable harm to the profession and tear down the relationships and trust between the police and the communities they serve.”

In the video of Floyd’s confrontation with police that went viral, Floyd can be seen lying handcuffed while Officer Derek Chauvin presses his knee against Floyd’s neck. Floyd can be heard on the video pleading with the officers that he can’t breathe, while bystanders call out for help. The video captures Floyd as he eventually stops talking and moving. The 46-year-old man then was taken from the scene on a gurney and pronounced dead at a local hospital.

Chauvin and three other officers involved in Floyd's death have been fired by the Minneapolis Police Department and their actions have been condemned across the political spectrum. None of the officers yet face any charges for their roles in Floyd’s death, but the FBI has stepped in to investigate the death alongside local agencies.

Demings has seen her national profile rise over the past five months. This winter, her law enforcement credentials helped her secure a position as a House impeachment manager in the Senate trial of President Donald Trump. And last week, she announced that she was being vetted as Biden’s possible vice presidential pick.

The congresswoman argued in her op-ed that in the case of Floyd, there is “no choice but to hold the officers accountable through the criminal-justice system." But she also demanded more systemic changes to address what she described as a much deeper issue plaguing the country.

“We must conduct a serious review of hiring standards and practices, diversity, training, use-of-force policies, pay and benefits (remember, you get what you pay for), early warning programs, and recruit training programs,” she wrote.

Members of law enforcement who don’t uphold their oath to protect and serve, she said, “must go. That includes those who would stand by as they witness misconduct by a fellow officer.”

Demings concluded the op-ed by noting that "everyone wants to live in safer communities and to support law enforcement and the tough job they do every day." She described the status quo as unsustainable.

"We have got to get this one right," she wrote.

While the events of the last few days could bolster Demings’ standing as a vice presidential contender — with Biden already under immense pressure to choose a woman of color as his running mate — they could dent the stock of another rumored prospect, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

Klobuchar has faced renewed scrutiny in recent days over her record on criminal justice, concerns that she struggled to overcome during her own presidential campaign earlier this year. Black activists had warned Biden against choosing Klobuchar even before Floyd’s death prompted a fresh look at her record as the prosecutor in Hennepin County, home to Minneapolis and the largest county in Minnesota.

The senator has faced accusations in recent days that she declined to bring charges against Chauvin for his involvement in the 2006 of a stabbing suspect, though Klobuchar said Friday she had already been sworn into the Senate when that case was heard by a grand jury.

In an interview on MSNBC, Klobuchar thanked anchor Andrea Mitchell for the opportunity to “set the record straight” and expressed regret for her practice of sending cases of officer-involved shootings to a grand jury, a forum critics say tends to be more favorable to police.

But “there is institutional racism” in law enforcement, she added, arguing that prosecutors should begin" taking responsibility themselves” for reviewing cases like Floyd’s and that police hiring and training practices should be reexamined.

The senator defended her record on criminal justice while serving as Hennepin County prosecutor and in the Senate. Klobuchar rejected the notion that any of it should disqualify her from being selected as Biden’s running mate but emphasized that the decision is up to the former vice president.

“He's going to make the best decision for him, for our country, for the pandemic and the crisis we're facing to take over leadership of who's the best partner with him to come in there with the competence that he is going to show, with the compassion he's going to show, with his strong support and understanding of the African-American community,” she said. “He will make that decision. He'll decide who he's considering.”

Posted in Uncategorized

Key House panels to interview State Department officials in probe of fired watchdog

Two House committees intend to interview senior State Department officials believed to be witnesses to matters that were being investigated by State Department inspector general Steve Linick before President Donald Trump abruptly fired him earlier this month.

The Oversight and Foreign Affairs panels, chaired by Democratic Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Eliott Engel, respectively, are probing Linick's firing and have emphasized that the watchdog was pursuing investigations related to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo when Trump forced him into administrative leave, triggering a 30-day countdown to Linick's removal.

Trump told reporters he made the decision at the behest of Pompeo but otherwise knew little about Linick.

Among the officials the committees intend to call are Brian Bulatao, undersecretary of State for management; Lisa Kenna, Pompeo's executive secretary; senior adviser Toni Porter; Assistant Secretary for Political-Military Affairs R. Clarke Cooper; former Deputy Assistant Secretary Marik String, a legal adviser to the department; Deputy Assistant Secretary of Political-Military Affairs Mike Miller; and former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs Charles Faulkner.

The committees believe the seven officials played a role in Linick's firing or are fact witnesses to Linick's ongoing investigations when he was sidelined — or both.

A State Department spokesperson indicated that officials are weighing the requests for interviews.

"As we communicated directly to Chairman Engel yesterday, the Department is carefully reviewing various requests for information, records, and interviews with State Department personnel, and is committed to engaging in good faith discussions with the Chairman concerning these requests."

The new investigation hearkens to the impeachment inquiry launched by the House Intelligence Committee, in conjunction with the Oversight and Foreign Affairs committees. At the time, the panels called a similar list of high-ranking State Department and Trump administration officials to investigate whether Trump had abused his power by pressuring Ukraine to probe his Democratic rival, Joe Biden.

It's unclear where the transcribed interviews will take place or whether the panels will issue subpoenas to compel testimony for any witness who refuses to appear voluntarily. But the committees say they intend to release public transcripts of the interviews "as quickly as possible."

After Trump removed Linick, reports revealed that the watchdog was reviewing whether Pompeo had relied on taxpayer-funded aides to do household chores for him and his wife. The inspector general was also examining the Trump administration's arms sale to Saudi Arabia, which were made over the objections of many senior officials, as well as Pompeo's role in hosting lavish taxpayer-funded dinners that often featured high-profile conservative guests.

Posted in Uncategorized

Hillary Clinton Says It’s Time For a ‘Real President’

Two-time failed presidential candidate Hillary Clinton criticized President Trump and his coronavirus pandemic response on Thursday saying, “We need a real President.”

Clinton, who most decidedly believes she’s the “real president” in her own mind, also took Trump to task for a controversial retweet.

“Over the last 24 hours, the 100,000th American died of COVID-19 on Trump’s watch,” she wrote. “He’s spent the last 24 hours sharing videos that begin ‘The only good Democrat is a dead Democrat’ while complaining Twitter’s censoring him.”

Clinton concluded, “We need a real president.”

RELATED: Maxine Waters: Trump Is The Reason Cops Kill Black People Like George Floyd

Trump’s Controversial Tweet

Hillary’s tweet also shared one from the President in which he thanked a group known as “Cowboys for Trump.”

The group posted a message referring to the media as “fake,” but included a video clip of their leader, Cuoy Griffin, a commissioner for Otero County in New Mexico, stating, “I’ve come to a place where I’ve come to the conclusion that the only good Democrat is a dead Democrat.”

Trump, in the middle of a tweetstorm, likely was sharing the message about fake news. It is unclear if he actually saw the clip in question.

That said, the video is taken from an event earlier this month in which Griffin clarified the comment by adding, “I don’t say that in the physical sense” and predicting his words would be taken out of context.

The full comment:

I’ve come to a place where I’ve come to the conclusion that the only good Democrat is a dead Democrat. I don’t say that in the physical sense and I can already see the videos getting edited where it says I wanna go murder Democrats. No, I say that in the political sense because the Democrat agenda and policy is anti-American right now. It’s where our country’s not coming to a place if you love or hate Donald Trump, our country’s coming to a place if you love or hate America.

RELATED: Rep Dan Crenshaw Lights Hillary Clinton Up Over Her Latest Attack on Trump

The Pretend President

Look, we know Hillary loves to play pretend president on social media because she’ll never be one in real life.

But the reality is that the coronavirus pandemic would have been far worse if President Trump did not get ahead of this thing by implementing a travel ban and declaring an emergency – even in the midst of an impeachment circus created by Clinton’s own party.

Had Hillary been in charge, she’d have exacerbated the crisis by keeping open borders and open travel into the country, all while thanking China for the virus even as they were the sole reason for the 100,000+ deaths in the United States.

The post Hillary Clinton Says It’s Time For a ‘Real President’ appeared first on The Political Insider.

Morning Digest: Nevada Democrats won big in 2018. Our new data shows they may again in 2020

The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, Stephen Wolf, Carolyn Fiddler, and Matt Booker, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, Daniel Donner, James Lambert, David Beard, and Arjun Jaikumar.

Leading Off

Senate-by-LD, Governor-by-LD: Nevada was a huge success story for Team Blue in 2018, with Democrats making big gains in both houses of the legislature at the same time that the party was flipping the U.S. Senate seat and governor's office. And as our new data, which was crunched for us by elections analyst Bill Coningsby, illustrates, Democrats have opportunities to pick up more seats this fall.

Democrats currently hold a 13-8 majority in the Senate, which is just one seat shy of the two-thirds majority needed to pass certain revenue-related measures that the GOP blocked in the previous sessions of the legislature without any GOP votes. In the state Assembly, though, Team Blue has a 29-13 supermajority.

We'll start with a look at the Senate, where half the chamber was up in 2018 while the rest of the seats will be on the ballot this fall. Democrat Jacky Rosen carried 15 of the 21 seats while she was unseating GOP Sen. Dean Heller 50-45, while Democrat Steve Sisolak took those very same districts while he was being elected governor 49-45 over Adam Laxalt. The median district backed Rosen by 53-43 and Sisolak by 52-44, placing it somewhat to the left of the state overall.

Two Republicans sit in Rosen/Sisolak seats, while no Democrats hold Heller/Laxalt districts. The only one of that pair of Republicans up this year is Heidi Gansert, who holds Senate District 15 in the Reno area. This constituency supported Rosen 51-45, while Sisolak took it 50-45; four years ago, the district also backed Hillary Clinton 47-44 while Gansert was winning by a convincing 53-42. This cycle, the Democrats are fielding Wendy Jauregui-Jackins, who lost a close primary for Washoe County assessor last cycle.

The other Republican on unfriendly turf is Keith Pickard, who won a four-year term in 2018 by 24 votes. That year, Rosen and Sisolak carried his SD-20 50-47 and 50-46, respectively.

Democrats do have a few potentially competitive seats to defend this year. Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro won SD-06 51-49 as Clinton was pulling off a 50-45 victory. Last cycle, though, the seat backed Rosen 53-44, while Sisolak took it by a similar 52-44 spread. Democrats will also be looking to keep the open SD-05, which supported Clinton just 48-46 but went for Rosen and Sisolak 53-43 and 52-44.

We'll turn to the 42-person Assembly, where members are elected to 2-year terms. Both Rosen and Sisolak carried the same 29 districts, while Heller and Laxalt took the remaining 13 districts. The two median districts backed Rosen by 54-42 and Sisolak by 53-41, placing them several points to the left of Nevada overall.

One assemblymember from each party holds a seat that was carried by the other side's statewide nominee. On the Democratic side, incumbent Skip Daly won 52-48 in a seat Heller and Laxalt took 49-47 and 49-45; Trump won by a larger 49-43 margin here in 2016. Meanwhile, Republican Assemblyman John Hambrick is termed-out of a seat that backed both Rosen and Sisolak 49-48 but where Trump prevailed 49-46.

We'll also take a quick look at the state's four congressional seats. The 3rd District, which is located in Las Vegas' southern suburbs, backed both Rosen and Sisolak 50-46, which was a shift to the left from Trump's 48-47 win. The 4th District supported Rosen 51-44, while Sisolak took it 50-44; the seat went for Clinton by a similar 50-45 margin in 2016. The 1st District went overwhelmingly for the Democratic ticket, while Republicans had no trouble carrying the 2nd District.

P.S. You can find our master list of statewide election results by congressional and legislative district here, which we'll be updating as we add new states. Additionally, you can find all our data from 2018 and past cycles here.

Election Changes

Please bookmark our litigation tracker spreadsheet for a compilation of the latest developments in major lawsuits over changes to election and voting procedures, along with our statewide 2020 primary calendar and our calendar of key downballot races, all of which we're updating continually as changes are finalized.

Alabama: Civil rights advocates have filed a lawsuit in state court seeking to loosen Alabama's restrictions on mail voting during the pendency of the pandemic. The plaintiffs want the court to order the state to suspend requirements that voters present an excuse to request an absentee ballot, have their ballot envelope notarized, and include a photocopy of their ID with their ballot. Additionally, the plaintiffs want 14 days of in-person early voting, which Alabama currently offers none of, along with drive-through voting and other measures to make voting safe for those not voting by mail.

Florida: Officials in Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties, which are home to the greater Tampa area and one in every nine registered voters in Florida, have announced that both counties will pay for postage on mail-in ballots. Officials in the southeastern Florida counties of Broward, Miami-Dade, and Palm Beach, which are home to around a quarter of Florida voters, had previously announced measures to implement prepaid postage and also mail out applications for mail ballots to voters or households who had yet to request one.

Montana: Montana's Supreme Court has reversed a lower court ruling that had allowed absentee mail ballots to count if they were postmarked by Election Day and received within a few days afterward. As a result, voters in the June 2 primary, which is taking place almost entirely by mail, will have to make sure election officials receive their ballots by Election Day.

The Supreme Court, however, did not rule on the merits of the plaintiffs' request but rather explained that it was reinstating the original deadline to avoid voter confusion and disruption to election administration. Plaintiffs will still have a chance to make their case that the ballot receipt deadline should be extended for the November general election.

New Jersey: Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy has announced that he has no further plans to alter procedures for the July 7 primary. Murphy recently ordered the election to take place largely by mail with active registered voters belonging to a party being sent ballots and inactive or unaffiliated voters getting sent applications, while municipalities operate at least one in-person voting each.

New Mexico: Rep. Ben Ray Luján, who is the presumptive Democratic nominee for Senate in New Mexico, is urging Democratic Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver to delay the deadline to return absentee mail ballots, saying he has heard reports of voters failing to receive a mail ballot in time even though the primary is taking place just days away on June 2.

A spokesperson for Toulouse Oliver says that extending the deadline, which currently requires ballots to be received by Election Day rather than simply postmarked by that date, would require legislative action. However, the state legislature isn't in session, and there's no indication yet whether Luján or anyone else will file a last-minute lawsuit instead.

North Carolina: North Carolina's Republican-run state House has almost unanimously passed a bill that would make it easier to vote absentee by mail. In particular, the bill would ease—though not eliminate—the atypical requirement that absentee voters have a notary or two witnesses sign their ballot envelope by allowing only one witness instead.

However, the bill also makes it a felony for election officials to mail actual ballots to voters who haven't requested one, which would prevent Democratic officials in charge of running elections from conducting elections by mail. Activists had also called on lawmakers to make other changes such as prepaying the postage on mail ballots or making Election Day a state holiday, but Republican legislators refused.

Even if it becomes law, this bill is not likely to be the final word on voting changes in North Carolina. Two separate lawsuits at the federal and state levels are partially or wholly challenging the witness requirement, lack of prepaid postage, and other absentee voting procedures.

South Carolina: South Carolina's all-Republican state Supreme Court has rejected a Democratic lawsuit seeking to waive the requirement that voters under age 65 provide a specific excuse to vote absentee by mail in June's primary. The court ruled that the issue was moot after the Republican-run state legislature recently passed a law waiving the excuse requirement for the June 9 primary and June 23 runoffs. However, that waiver will expire in July, so Democrats are likely to continue pressing their claim in either state court or a separate federal lawsuit for November.

Texas: Texas' all-Republican Supreme Court has sided with Republican state Attorney General Ken Paxton in determining that lack of coronavirus immunity doesn't qualify as an excuse for requesting a mail ballot under the state's definition of "disability." Consequently, all voters must present an excuse to vote by mail except for those age 65 or older, a demographic that favors Republicans.

While the ruling did note that it's up to voters to decide whether or not to "apply to vote by mail based on a disability," that may not be much of a silver lining, because Paxton has repeatedly threatened activists with criminal prosecution for advising voters to request mail ballots. If campaigns and civic groups limit their outreach as a result of Paxton's threats, then even voters still entitled to mail ballots may not learn about the option.

However, in one positive development for voting access, the court ruled that Paxton couldn't tell officials in five counties not to send absentee ballots to voters citing disability even for coronavirus, since Texas' absentee application doesn't ask what a voter's disability is. In addition, separate federal litigation remains ongoing after a lower court blocked the absentee excuse requirement. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals is set to rule soon on whether to in turn block that ruling for the state's July 14 primary runoff.

Virginia: Conservatives filed a federal lawsuit earlier this month seeking to block Virginia from implementing its absentee voting plan for the state's June 23 primary, specifically targeting instructions that voters "may choose reason '2A My disability or illness' for absentee voting." Although a new law was passed this year to permanently remove the excuse requirement, it doesn't go into effect until July. Consequently, the plaintiffs argue that the current law is being impermissibly interpreted to let those concerned about coronavirus cite it as an excuse to obtain an absentee ballot when they aren't physically ill themselves and don't otherwise qualify.

Wisconsin: Wisconsin's bipartisan Elections Commission has unanimously voted to send applications for absentee mail ballots to all registered voters, which requires a photo ID. However, the commissioners still must decide on the wording of the letter sent to voters, and a deadlock over the language could prevent the commission from sending anything at all. Notably, the Republican commissioners' votes to mail applications comes after the major Democratic stronghold of Milwaukee and some other Democratic-leaning cities had already moved to do so, so the GOP may face pressure to extend the practice statewide.


GA-Sen-A: Investigative filmmaker Jon Ossoff talks about the murder of Ahmaud Arbery in his new ad for the June 9 Democratic primary. Ossoff tells the audience that his business involves investigating corruption, "And when a young black man in Georgia is shot dead in the street, but police and prosecutors look the other way? That's the worst kind of corruption." He continues by pledging to "work to reform our criminal justice system" in the Senate.

KS-Sen: On Thursday, just days ahead of the June 1 filing deadline, state Senate President Susan Wagle announced that she was dropping out of the August GOP primary. Wagle's move is good news for state and national party leaders, who are afraid that a crowded field will make it easier for former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach to win the primary.

Wagle's decision came weeks after Kansas GOP chair Mike Kuckelman asked her to leave the race in order "to allow our Party to coalesce behind a candidate who will not only win, but will help Republicans down the ballot this November." Wagle's campaign responded to Kuckelman's appeal at the time by saying she wasn't going anywhere and adding, "Others can speculate on his motives, but it may be as simple as he doesn't support strong, pro-life conservative women."

On Thursday, though, Wagle herself cited the party's need to avoid a "primary fight that will divide our party or hurts my colleagues in the state legislature" as one of her main reasons for dropping out. Wagle also argued that a competitive nomination fight would help Democratic state Sen. Barbara Bollier in the fall.

Wagle's departure came hours after Rep. Roger Marshall, who looks like Kobach's main rival, picked up an endorsement from Kansans For Life, a development the Kansas City Star's Bryan Lowry characterized as a major setback for Wagle.

The organization, which Lowry called the state's "leading anti-abortion group," notably backed both Kobach and then-Gov. Jeff Colyer in the 2018 gubernatorial primary. Kobach won that contest by less than 350 votes before losing the general election to Democrat Laura Kelly, and Lowry says that plenty of state Republican operatives believe things would have turned out very differently if KFL had only supported Colyer.

Meanwhile, Bollier's second TV ad touts her as a "sensible centrist" and a "leading moderate voice."

ME-Sen: A progressive group led by former Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling is out with a survey from Victory Geek that shows Democratic state House Speaker Sara Gideon leading GOP Sen. Susan Collins 51-42. The poll also tested 2018 gubernatorial candidate Betty Sweet, who is a longshot candidate in the July Democratic primary, and found her edging Collins 44-43; Strimling disclosed that he was close to Sweet and had contributed to her campaign.

This is the first poll we've ever seen from Victory Geek, a firm Strimling characterized as "a non-partisan data and telecom provider with mostly conservative clients." Strimling called this survey a "joint left/right partnership" between Victory Geek and his progressive organization, "Swing Hard. Run Fast. Turn Left!"

The is also the first poll we've seen here in close to three months, so we don't have a good sense if Collins really is badly trailing. Indeed, the only other numbers we've seen from Maine all year were a February SocialSphere poll that had Gideon up 43-42 and an early March survey from the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling that had her ahead 47-43. While it's very clear that Collins is in for the fight of her career, we need more data before we can call her an underdog.


MO-Gov: The conservative pollster We Ask America finds GOP Gov. Mike Parson leading Democrat Nicole Galloway 47-39, while Donald Trump edges Joe Biden 48-44. The only other poll we've seen here in the last month was a late April survey from the GOP firm Remington Research for the Missouri Scout tipsheet that showed Parson ahead 52-39.

VT-Gov: On Thursday, which was the candidate filing deadline, GOP Gov. Phil Scott confirmed that he'd seek a third two-year term. While Scott waited until now to make his plans official, there was never any serious talk about him stepping aside. Scott also pledged that he wouldn't bring on "a campaign staff or office, be raising money, or participating in normal campaign events" until the current state of emergency is over.


HI-02: On Thursday, VoteVets endorsed state Sen. Kai Kahele in the August Democratic primary. Kahele currently faces no serious intra-party opposition for this safely blue open seat, though it's always possible someone could launch a last-minute campaign before the filing deadline passes on Tuesday.

IA-04: Politico reports that Iowa Four PAC, a group run by former GOP state House Speaker Christopher Rants, has launched a $20,000 TV buy against white supremacist Rep. Steve King ahead of Tuesday's GOP primary. The commercial declares that it's "sad that Steve King lost his committee assignments in Congress and embarrassed Iowa." The narrator also says that "President Trump stopped allowing Steve King to fly on Air Force One." The rest of the ad touts state Sen. Randy Feenstra as a reliable Trump ally.

Meanwhile, 2018 Democratic nominee J.D. Scholten, who doesn't face any intra-party opposition next week, has launched what Inside Elections' Jacob Rubashkin reports is a $50,000 TV buy. The 60-second ad, which is narrated by "Field of Dreams" star Kevin Costner, is a shorter version of Scholten's launch video. The spot features images of western Iowa and its people and declares that the area is "rooted within us. Within him."

IN-01: Former Sen. Joe Donnelly endorsed Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott on Monday ahead of next week's Democratic primary. Meanwhile, the Voter Protection Project has announced that it will spend "six figures" on mailers supporting state Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon.

IN-05: The anti-tax Club for Growth began targeting former Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi a little while ago, and it recently went up with a commercial targeting businesswoman Beth Henderson, who is another candidate in next week's GOP primary. Roll Call's Jessica Wehrman writes that the Club, which backs state Sen. Victoria Spartz, has spent $400,000 on ads for this contest.

The ad shows an old clip of Henderson from just before the 2016 Indiana presidential primary saying of Donald Trump, "I don't like his outbursts and his inappropriateness with the public and … his scruples." The narrator goes on to argue that Henderson "even went on Facebook to support a liberal group that called for Trump's impeachment."

Spartz, who has self-funded most of her campaign, has decisively outspent her many opponents in this competitive open seat. A recent poll for the Club also showed her leading Brizzi 32-14 as Henderson took 13%, and no one has released any contradictory numbers.

Henderson is also acting like Spartz is the one to beat here. Henderson made sure to inform voters in a recent ad that she was born in the United States in what appears to be a not-very subtle shot at Spartz, who has discussed leaving her native Ukraine in her own commercials.

NY-24: 2018 nominee Dana Balter is out with her second TV spot ahead of the June 23 Democratic primary to face GOP Rep. John Katko.

Balter tells the audience that she has a pre-existing condition and continues, "I know the fear of living without insurance, so it's personal when John Katko repeatedly votes to sabotage Obamacare and put coverage for pre-existing conditions at risk." Balter declares that she came closer to defeating Katko last cycle than anyone ever has, and pledges "we'll finish the job so everyone has good healthcare."

NV-03: The conservative super PAC Ending Spending recently launched an ad against former state Treasurer Dan Schwartz ahead of the June 9 GOP primary, and Politico reports that the size of the buy for the TV and digital campaign is $300,000.

UT-04: Former Rep. Mia Love has endorsed state Rep. Kim Coleman in the June 30 GOP primary to take on freshman Rep. Ben McAdams.

DCCC: The DCCC has added another six contenders to its program for top candidates:

  • AK-AL: Alyse Galvin
  • AR-02: Joyce Elliott
  • MT-AL: Kathleen Williams
  • NC-08: Pat Timmons-Goodson
  • NE-02: Kara Eastman
  • OH-01: Kate Schroder

Kathleen Williams, who was the 2018 nominee for Montana’s only House seat, does face a primary on Tuesday against state Rep. Tom Winter. However, Winter has struggled with fundraising during the contest.


MI Supreme Court: On Tuesday, the Michigan Democratic Party announced its endorsements for the two state Supreme Court seats on the ballot in November, backing Chief Justice Bridget Mary McCormack and attorney Elizabeth Welch. Both Democratic-backed candidates will face off against two Republican-supported candidates in elections this fall that are nominally nonpartisan and let voters select up to two candidates elected by plurality winner. If McCormack is re-elected and Welch wins office to succeed a retiring GOP justice, Democrats would gain a 4-3 majority on the bench.

A Democratic majority would have major implications for battles over redistricting and voting access, two topics that are currently the subject of active lawsuits at both the state and federal levels in Michigan. While Michigan has a new independent redistricting commission, Republicans are currently suing in federal court to strike it down, something that isn't outside the realm of possibility given the conservative U.S. Supreme Court majority, but a Democratic state court could serve as a bulwark against unfair maps in such a scenario.

Grab Bag

Deaths: Former Rep. Sam Johnson, a Texas Republican who represented Dallas' northern suburbs from 1991 to 2019, died Wednesday at the age of 89. Johnson was the last Korean War veteran to serve in Congress, as well as a founding member of what later became the influential Republican Study Committee.

Johnson was serving as a fighter pilot in Vietnam in 1966 when his plane was shot down and he was captured by North Vietnamese forces. Johnson spent almost seven years as a prisoner of war, a period that included physical and mental torture. Johnson and another future Republican politician, John McCain, also shared a tiny cell for 18 months.

Johnson was released in 1973, and he went on to become a homebuilder back in Texas. Johnson was elected to the state House in 1984, and he sought an open U.S. House seat in a 1991 special election after Republican Steve Bartlett resigned to become mayor of Dallas. Johnson took second in the all-party primary against a fellow Vietnam veteran, former Reagan White House aide Tom Pauken, and the two met in an all-Republican general election. Johnson emphasized his military service and won 53-47, and he never had trouble winning re-election for the rest of his career.

In 2000, Johnson notably endorsed George W. Bush over McCain, saying of his former cellmate, "I know him pretty well … and I can tell you, he cannot hold a candle to George Bush." Three years later, though, McCain would say of the Texan, "I wasn't really as courageous as Sam Johnson." Johnson would ultimately back McCain in the 2008 primaries, arguing it was "time to get behind the front-runner."

‘Like a letter carrier’: House takes historic plunge with first proxy votes

On Wednesday afternoon, Rep. Brendan Boyle of Pennsylvania quietly made some history.

Acting on behalf of Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), Boyle was the first member ever to cast a proxy vote for a colleague on the House floor. Boyle joked that he had to “thank the alphabet for this one” because the chamber was voting in alphabetical order, but he also insisted that the move would be praised by the Constitution’s drafters.

“Our Founding Fathers were some of the most forward-thinking people of their time,” Boyle said in an interview. “I have no doubt that if James Madison were here now, he would be embracing us for being able to use the technology of today so that we can carry out the will of the people.”

But his action — and the rule change that allowed it — has quickly become another bitter partisan flashpoint as Congress struggles with how to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.

And President Donald Trump may soon be forced to weigh in.

The bill that Boyle cast his proxy vote for Lofgren on is a hugely popular measure calling for the United States to sanction Chinese officials and entities over the detention and torture of Uyghur Muslims in that country’s Xinjiang region. If Trump signs the measure — which passed the House by an overwhelming 413-1 margin after being approved by the Senate on a voice vote — it means the president has indirectly endorsed a procedure that Republicans claim is unconstitutional.

Trump hasn’t said whether he will sign the bill once it reaches his desk, and the Chinese government is already threatening to retaliate if sanctions are enacted.

Under pressure from their own members to allow for more remote work during the pandemic, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) pushed through the proxy vote rules change earlier this month.

House impeachment manager Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., walks on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, Feb. 3, 2020, after the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump concluded for the day. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

The move, which came on a party line vote, was vehemently opposed by House Republicans, who charge it violates the constitutional requirement for a majority to be present to hold a House vote. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and other top Republicans have already said they’ll sue in federal court to overturn the rule, but that didn’t stop the Democrats from going ahead with the procedure Wednesday.

“In California alone, your largest [Democratic] delegation, more than half the Democrats stayed home,” McCarthy complained on the floor before the vote on the Uyghur bill. “I’ll guarantee you that they all cashed their check this month.”

Added Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), “We got through yellow fever, we got through world wars, we got through the Spanish flu, we got through a civil war, and we managed to figure out how to do our job.”

Seventy members — all of them Democrats — filed public letters with the House Clerk’s office stating that they would not be physically present “due to the ongoing public health emergency” and had assigned their proxy to a colleague. These members had to inform that colleague how they wanted to vote on every amendment, bill or procedural question.

Many of those who filed proxy votes were from the western United States and have travel challenges even getting to Capitol Hill. Twenty-six Californians filed such notices, for instance.

Others have been suffering from major health problems and are more vulnerable to the coronavirus; Reps. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.), have been undergoing cancer treatments, while Rep. Mark DeSaulnier (D-Calif.) was hospitalized for pneumonia.

Some were some freshmen from battleground districts, while some committee chairs, such as Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), decided to use the procedure as well.

But all Democrats strongly rejected the GOP claim that the process was unconstitutional or a violation of their duties as a lawmaker.

“I have zero discretion and I have zero judgment. I am like a letter carrier delivering a letter to the House of Representatives,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin who was accused by McCarthy of having “voted seven times on legislation” because the Maryland Democrat cast six proxy votes in addition to his own.

“I’ve been listening carefully to the debate all day,” added Raskin, a constitutional lawyer. “I’ve not heard a single argument about how this disadvantages the minority and advantages the majority.”

Forty-one Democrats served as proxies on Wednesday, representing nearly every swath of the country. Two local lawmakers — Raskin and Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) — cast the most proxy votes, doing so on behalf of roughly a half-dozen colleagues a piece.

One Democrat showed a reporter a proxy list that included a GOP colleague who had asked him to cast a vote, but the Republican later backed out, apparently out of concern that the move could undermine the looming legal action or disrupt party unity. The Republican didn’t show up for Wednesday’s House votes.

Many members tapped a colleague who shared the same ideological tilt to cast their proxy votes: progressives chose progressives, Blue Dogs chose Blue Dogs. Others chose within their state delegation, or picked their D.C. roommates, who are usually some of their closest friends in Congress.

The list includes lawmakers across the political spectrum, from Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), a senior conservative Democrat, to Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), a firebrand progressive.

It allowed Democrats like Reps. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) and Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.) — who have been sidelined from the U.S. Capitol for health reasons — to record their vote for the first time in weeks. Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-Fla.) was able to vote while quarantining herself after potential exposure to the virus.

Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.) cast proxy votes for five of his colleagues on the floor, including two of his roommates in a D.C. townhouse: Reps. Mike Levin and Jared Huffman, both of California.

Kildee said all four Democrats emailed him with specific instructions, and then he called them to confirm — even for a non-controversial “suspension” vote where all but one House member voted the same way.

“We’ve got to do it right,” Kildee said. “I think it’s unfortunate the way some have characterized all this. This is just us proving that just like the rest of the world, we can figure out how to adapt.”

Rep. Ann Kuster (D-N.H.) said she is on a group text chain with several other Democrats — some of whom also live in the same apartment near the Capitol — and volunteered to serve as a proxy for anybody who needed one. She eventually voted for four other Democrats.

“I just offered,” Kuster said. “They have various reasons regarding their health, or their family members.”

Each member voting on behalf of their colleague was required to take several additional steps on the floor — reading aloud each colleague’s position, then waiting for the clerk to repeat it for the record. For each proxy vote, Democrats lined up behind each other in the aisle as they waited to approach the mic.

Several members filed for proxy votes but then showed up anyway. Reps. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and Cedric Richmond (D-La.) both did so, for instance.

“The question was about not whether I was coming but whether I could get in in time for the first vote,” Richmond said. “It’s better to be safe than sorry.”

In the end, Democrats seemed comfortable with their rule change and how the process played out on the first day, despite the Republican complaints.

“I find Leader McCarthy’s position to just be irresponsible. I also see it as obstructionist,” said Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.). “The Supreme Court would be awfully hypocritical to intervene based on some very strange reading of the Constitution.”

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Senate Republicans made Trump a monster. Americans deserve answers

When Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas asked me last week whether I had any burning questions to ask at the White House press briefings, I had an immediate sense of revulsion at the idea of being in that press room. Even though I spent several Obama-era years as a White House correspondent, nothing about the idea of sitting in that COVID-infected room only to be lied to by Trump's latest media hack sounded even remotely enticing or worthwhile.

But after reflecting on my reticence, I realized there was a place I'd like to be wandering around asking questions: Congress. Specifically, for a journalist looking to make newsworthy inquiries, Senate Republicans are the people to be bird-dogging, buttonholing, and peppering with questions. That's where the juice is this election cycle.

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Practically anything at all Senate Republicans say about Trump right now is newsworthy, particularly those in tight reelection bids this year. Naturally, I'm thinking of Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Cory Gardner of Colorado, Martha McSally of Arizona, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Joni Ernst of Iowa, David Perdue of Georgia, and others too. Precisely because they are the caucus that voted to save Trump's presidency and keep him at the helm of the country's pandemic response, reporters should make Senate Republicans own up to that decision and either stand by it or flee. And Trump offers a never-ending stream of material with which to work.

For instance, do any of them regret voting to acquit Trump without even staging a real trial? Gardner pitched a fit last week because the GOP caucus was leaving town without acting on more coronavirus relief—inaction initially backed by both Trump and McConnell. "Senator Gardner, do you stand by your vote to keep Trump in charge of the national response to the coronavirus?" Gardner could either run down a hallway or say that wasn't what the impeachment vote was about. "But you voted to keep Trump in charge of the country without hearing from any witnesses, right? Has he proven worthy of the vote of confidence you gave him?" Don't Coloradans deserve to know how their junior senator grades Trump's performance over the pandemic response?

As a reporter, when you know approximately the type of response you're going to get, the newsworthiness is usually about the phrasing of the question. Not every interaction goes as anticipated and by no means do they all end up being newsworthy. Plus, sometimes as a reporter, you're really just trying to gauge the progress of certain legislation, etc. But just five months out from November, my full attention would be trained on the electoral fate of the Senate.

"Senator Ernst, has Trump come through on the promises he made to Iowa farmers? Now that he's blaming China for spread of the coronavirus, do you think he'll really be able to seal the trade deal?" No, he won't. But don't Iowans deserve to know whether Ernst thinks Trump will deliver for them? "Senator, why isn't Trump prioritizing the trade deal over scapegoating China? Is finger pointing more important than saving Iowa farms from going under?"

I'm a little rusty, but you get the idea. "Senator Collins, if you really wanted action on coronavirus relief last week, why are you still voting to rubber stamp Trump's nominees?" Collins could be leveraging her votes in order to get action on more relief, or she could easily be registering protest votes and she’s not. One could also ask at-risk senators about the comments of other senators and GOP leadership, in particular. "Senator Collins, do you agree with Leader McConnell that there's zero urgency about bringing more relief to Mainers and other Americans?" (Mitch McConnell is currently changing his tune on that relief, but time is still of the essence.) Of course, McConnell is up for reelection too in Kentucky and while unseating him will be tough, he has more than just the GOP caucus to think about—he still has to get himself reelected. 

The Senate GOP is actually a total mess if reporters would just take the time to explore the fissures. Does Sen. Perdue think his governor made the right call to reopen Georgia? And if he does, does he support the notion that Trump should butt out of the state's business since Trump himself left it up to the governors? (Trump initially objected to Gov. Brian Kemp’s rush to reopen.)

Again, there's a million places to go. Do GOP senators support Trump promoting conspiracy theories and piddling away precious hours on the links right as America was reaching the deeply unsettling milestone of 100,000 deaths due to coronavirus? Do they worry that Trump still hasn’t developed a legit testing, tracking, and containment plan in case of a second wave? Every day, there's something more to ask about, and there's almost always something state specific—because Trump is a terrible politician and he is constantly hanging out GOP lawmakers to dry.

Every one of those GOP senators should have to answer for their failures to rein Trump in. They should all be held accountable for the fact that their repeated failures to act in the country's best interests helped turn Trump into the incomprehensible monster he is today. If you're a reporter in D.C. covering electoral politics and asking these kinds of questions isn't your mission in your life, you're entirely missing the biggest story of the election. Constituents should hear what Republican senators have to say for themselves. After all, Americans will be determining the fate of the GOP majority this coming November and they deserve answers. 

Grassley says White House ‘failed’ on watchdog firings

White House Counsel Pat Cipollone told a top Republican senator on Tuesday that President Donald Trump acted appropriately when he fired two independent government watchdogs.

The long-awaited response, which Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) demanded after Trump fired the inspectors general for the intelligence community and the State Department, comes after lawmakers on both sides of the aisle expressed concern with the president’s actions and asserted that he did not comply with a statute requiring a detailed explanation for those firings.

In a subsequent statement, Grassley said Cipollone’s response “failed to address” that requirement, which was codified in a 2008 law that Grassley co-authored.

“I don’t dispute the president’s authority under the Constitution, but without sufficient explanation, it’s fair to question the president’s rationale for removing an inspector general,” Grassley said. “If the president has a good reason to remove an inspector general, just tell Congress what it is. Otherwise, the American people will be left speculating whether political or self interests are to blame.”

Cipollone, however, focused his response on the president’s sole power to hire and fire officials within the executive branch, and said Trump “acted within his constitutional and statutory authority” when he fired Michael Atkinson, the intelligence community’s inspector general, and Steve Linick, the State Department’s inspector general.

“When the president loses confidence in an inspector general, he will exercise his constitutional right and duty to remove that officer — as did President Reagan when he removed inspectors general upon taking office and as did President Obama when he was in office,” Cipollone wrote.

Cipollone also defended the president’s decision to place Atkinson and Linick on administrative leave for 30 days. Grassley and other senators had said the move could have been an effort by the president to skirt the 30-day congressional notification requirement.

In his official notifications to Congress, Trump said only that he had lost confidence in both Atkinson and Linick — a response Grassley said was insufficient. But Cipollone argued that current law requiring such a notification “raises serious constitutional concerns.”

Cipollone also defended Trump’s replacements for each watchdog post, both of whom are serving in their roles in an acting capacity. Grassley raised concerns about this rationale in his statement, and said political appointees should not be serving in a leadership role in an inspector general’s office.

“The White House Counsel’s letter does not address this glaring conflict of interest,” Grassley said. “Congress established inspectors general to serve the American people — to be independent and objective watchdogs, not agency lapdogs.”

Grassley is crafting legislation to prevent political appointees within executive branch departments and agencies from being tapped to serve as acting inspectors general, “in order to preserve the independence required of the office.”

In the days after Trump fired Linick, it was revealed that Linick was looking into allegations that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo directed political appointees to run personal errands. Linick was also looking into the Trump administration’s sale of $8 billion in weapons to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates last year in a way that circumvented Congress’ authority to override those sales.

Pompeo later said he made the recommendation to Trump that Linick be terminated.

Atkinson, meanwhile, had drawn the president’s ire months ago when he transferred a whistleblower complaint to the House Intelligence Committee that later became the basis for the House’s impeachment inquiry.

Democrats have raised concerns about what they view as a campaign by the president to seek revenge against those who sought to hold him accountable.

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