In it, but not of it. TPM DC

On Tuesday, several Republican congressional leaders touted to reporters that Trump’s immigration proposal had been endorsed by the League of United Latin America Citizens (LULAC)—a Latino civil rights group that for years has advocated for a path to citizenship for young immigrants known as Dreamers.

While LULAC’s president Roger Rocha did in fact write a letter to President Trump over the weekend thanking him for “taking the lead” on immigration reform and declaring that the White House framework was one “LULAC can support,” staff at the organization tell TPM that they were completely blindsided by Rocha’s action and were not consulted before the letter was sent.

Read More →

President Trump heads into his first State of the Union speech with lousy approval numbers across much of the country — but remains fairly popular in a few states with tough Senate races next fall.

That’s according to a bevy of state-level polling Gallup released Tuesday, combining data the firm collected from surveys conducted throughout the last year.

Trump has majority approval rating in just 12 states — but three of those have Democratic senators up for reelection next fall, including the two states where Trump’s numbers are the best, West Virginia and North Dakota. He’s also above water in Montana, as well as in Tennessee, where Democrats hope they might be able to seriously contest an open Senate seat.

These numbers are crucial heading into this fall’s midterms. They’re also powering major strategic decisions with huge policy consequences — including how Democrats will handle ongoing negotiations to try to protect undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) led the red-state Democratic charge to end the shutdown by threatening to retire if Senate leaders didn’t back down.

But these numbers are plenty bleak for Republicans.

Trump’s overall approval rating for his first year in office was a dismal 38 percent, according to Gallup, the lowest first-year numbers in the polling firm’s long history of surveying presidential approval. If he doesn’t bounce back significantly Republicans are likely to take a beating in the upcoming midterms. Crucially, in many red and swing states Democrats are hoping to hold onto this fall, his approval ratings are significantly lower than they were when he was first elected.

Slightly more people disapprove than approve of Trump’s job performance in Republican-leaning Missouri and Indiana, both of which have top-tier Senate races next fall, and his approval rating is 10 points lower than his disapproval rating in a bevy of states key to Senate control: Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Arizona and Nevada. In Texas, according to Gallup, Trump’s approval rating is at just 39 percent, with 54 percent disapproving, a number that should put a scare into Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) as he faces down reelection.

Those numbers are promising for Senate Democrats. But as they look to defend 10 Democrats in states Trump won and pick off two more Senate seats to take control of the chamber, there’s a reason why their strategy and messaging has diverged in recent weeks from their party’s liberal base.

Read More →

As the deadline for a deal on immigration draws closer, a bipartisan, bicameral group of lawmakers with the unfortunate name “the Number Twos” has been meeting almost daily to negotiate a solution that would protect young immigrants known as Dreamers.

But their first meeting since President Trump unveiled his immigration proposal, which includes billions of dollars to build more walls on the U.S.-Mexico border and deep cuts to several forms of legal immigration, yielded no tangible progress. Though rank-and-file House Republicans and conservative groups have blasted the White House plan as “amnesty” and a violation of Trump’s campaign promises, the GOP leaders attending the meeting of the seconds-in-command from each party in each chamber (hence, the “Number Twos”) had nothing but praise for the proposal.

Read More →

The Trump administration’s controversial immigration proposal—leaked to the press on Thursday—was officially unveiled Monday, and before the plan had even hit inboxes across D.C., the plan had come under attack from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers and both conservative groups that favor strict immigration controls and those that advocate for immigrants’ rights.

“Leaders on both sides of the aisle continue to tell me that we all agree on the problem. We all want to secure our borders. We all want to help immigrants brought to the U.S. as children,” Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in a speech Monday at a Washington think tank. “The devil is in the details.”

The disagreements dividing Congress and the country, however, go beyond the details. Immigration hardliners argue that granting a decade-long path to citizenship for 1.8 million immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children is “amnesty,” while progressives say Trump’s call for ending most family-based immigration is “hateful” and a political non-starter.

Read More →

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) will retire at the end of his term, he announced Monday, opening up another swing district ahead of the 2018 elections.

“Today as I announce my retirement at the end of this session of Congress, I want to use the opportunity to strongly encourage the many young people I meet to consider public service,” he said in a Monday statement. “I thank my friends and colleagues with whom I have served.”

Frelinghuysen’s retirement opens up a suburban northern New Jersey seat, boosting Democrats’ chances at winning it in what’s shaping up to be a good year for the party and marking the latest in a string of GOP retirements that have further damaged the party’s chances at holding onto the House. President Trump won the district by just a one-point margin after Mitt Romney carried it by six in 2012, and Democrats had already planned to target it this fall.

He’s the latest senior Republican to decide to head for the exits — and the eighth GOP committee chairman who’s decided to hang things up. Unlike other powerful committee chairmen, Frelinghuysen just won his chairmanship and could continue to serve as chairman for five more years. That makes his retirement is especially notable — a strong sign that his decision was driven by the political headwinds Republicans face this year.

A whopping 24 House Republicans have announced their retirements or already resigned this Congress who aren’t running for higher office, compared with just seven Democrats. That retirement rate is even higher than ahead of previous wave elections like 2010, 2006 and 1994.

Frelinghuysen had clearly been feeling that heat after decades without a serious campaign challenge (he’d once been so safe in the district that Michael Moore tried to run a ficus plant as a write-in against him to illustrate the lack of competition). He drew national attention last year for contacting the boss of a local constituent who’d been leading protests against him to complain about her. Late last year, the normally reliable fiscal conservative joined a number of other New Jersey Republicans in voting against the GOP’s recent corporate tax cuts because some of the pay-fors are projected to badly hurt New Jersey real estate, drawing the ire of House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI).

His retirement also marks the potential end of a centuries-old political dynasty in New Jersey dating back to the Revolutionary War. Four Frelinghuysens have served as New Jersey senators, and the congressman’s father held his congressional seat for decades from the 1950s to the 1970s.

Both parties pledged to hotly contest his seat in next year’s midterms.

“Congressman Frelinghuysen’s record of service to New Jersey’s 11th district will be remembered for decades to come,” National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Steve Stivers (R-OH) said in a statement. “This district has been held by a Republican since the 1980’s, and we plan to keep it that way in November.”

“Representative Frelinghuysen’s retirement opens up a very competitive seat that is moving quickly towards Democrats,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Evan Lukaske said. “Democrats are confident that this seat will turn blue next November.”

Read More →

After Sen. Tom Cotton’s (R-AR) office confirmed this month that it occasionally sends constituents cease and desist letters, one Arkansas resident shared his attempts to learn the Senator’s position on two issues close to his family, which he said ended in Cotton’s staff sending the him a cease and desist letter.

Don Ernst, a resident of Little Rock, shared his story at length with “The Sexy Pundits” podcast in an episode that aired Monday. He said that he called Cotton’s office in February 2017 to ask about the senator’s position on the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and to ask about Cotton’s plans for addressing the opioid epidemic in the event that Obamacare was repealed.

Ernst said he has a son battling opioid addiction, making Cotton’s stance on how to address the opioid crisis particularly important to his family.

The Arkansas resident told the podcast that he called Cotton’s office 18 times between February and June 2017 to ask for the senator’s position on the two issues, but staffers told him that the senator’s stance was not readily available and indicated they would look into his questions.

“It’s excruciating not to get an answer to questions that impact people you care about and you love,” Ernst said on the podcast.

Ernst confirmed to TPM that he called Cotton’s for months without getting an answer from the senator’s staff. He told TPM that he suspects that at times he raised his voice.

“Certainly, as each call happened, I think I began to get more emotional,” he told TPM.

But it was the 18th call that got him banned from phoning into the senator’s office again, according to Ernst.

On that call, Ernst told a staffer that it was “bullshit” that he could not get answers on IDEA and the opioid crisis, and he said that staffer abruptly hung up the phone. He called back immediately and a different staff member informed him that they would send him a cease and desist letter.

Ernst said he never actually received the letter in the mail and hasn’t seen it to this day, but he told TPM that a Capitol Police official confirmed to him over the phone later that the letter had indeed been sent.

After he was notified of the cease and desist letter, Ernst sent a letter to Cotton’s office, which he shared with TPM. He apologized for “for an emotionally driven expression of the word (sh_ _t).”

“I should have never used such language with one of your young staffers, and it was understandable that she expressed concern to her supervisors. I offer my apology with sincerity,” he wrote.

Cotton’s office confirmed earlier this month that it does send cease and desist letters to constituents, but claimed that they are rare.

“Senator Cotton is always happy to hear from Arkansans and encourages everyone to contact his offices to express their thoughts, concerns, and opinions. In order to maintain a safe work environment, if an employee of Senator Cotton receives repeated communications that are harassing and vulgar, or any communication that contains a threat, our policy is to notify the U.S. Capitol Police’s Threat Assessment Section and, in accordance with their guidance, send a cease and desist letter to the individual making the harassing or threatening communication. These letters are rare and only used under extreme circumstances,” Cotton spokeswoman Caroline Rabbitt Tabler said in a statement earlier in January following the first reports that the office sent cease and desist letters to constituents.

TPM asked Cotton’s office for confirmation that it sent a cease and desist letter to Ernst, but did not receive a response. TPM also reached out to the Capitol Police for confirmation but has not yet received a response.

Cotton’s office has issued a cease and desist letter to at least one other constituent.

Stacey Lane, a Fayetteville resident, told the Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette that she got a cease and desist letter when she used the f-word with a member of Cotton’s staff.

“Have I used expletives? Yes,” Lane said. “I like to think I use them appropriately and to get people’s attention.”

Read More →

Negotiations in the Senate on an immigration package that would protect the group of young immigrants known as Dreamers has kicked into high gear, with dozens of Democratic and Republican lawmakers meeting almost daily to attempt to craft a plan before their self-imposed deadline of Feb. 8. But as the senators boast to reporters about their bipartisan bonhomie and progress toward a deal, a fear hangs over the negotiations: that conservatives in the House of Representatives and a mercurial President advised by immigration hardliners will shoot down whatever they manage to produce.

“We’re caught in this vortex where Trump won’t negotiate and Republicans won’t support anything that Trump won’t sign,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) told TPM.

Read More →

Two bills aimed at preventing President Donald Trump from firing special counsel Robert Mueller stalled last year with a lack of enthusiasm from Republicans in Congress. And despite Thursday’s revelation that Trump did order Mueller’s ouster over the summer, the bills’ odds still don’t look great.

The bipartisan bills were introduced last summer, when President Donald Trump was raging against Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the Russia probe. Some lawmakers in Congress grew concerned that Trump would seek to oust Mueller by replacing Sessions, and drew up legislation to protect the special counsel.

But most Republicans in the Senate dismissed the bills, arguing that the legislation was unnecessary because Trump wouldn’t dare fire Mueller.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said in November that he had not heard “much pressure to pass anything” and that there was “no indication” Trump was not cooperating with Mueller. Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, said in August that a bill to keep Trump from firing Mueller was uncalled for “because I don’t think it’s going to happen.”

Even Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) and Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), two vocal critics of the President, said that they were not worried that Trump would actually try to remove Mueller.

However, thanks to the New York Times, we now know that Trump did order Mueller’s removal, and backed off the effort only when White House Counsel Don McGahn threatened to resign.

As of Friday afternoon, Republicans in Congress were not exactly rushing to promote legislation protecting the special counsel, even as their Democratic colleagues urged them to do so.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) called for Congress to pass a bill to protect Mueller, and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) issued a blistering statement complaining that “instead of protecting Mueller’s investigation from undue interference, many Republicans in Congress have stepped up their spurious attacks against the Department of Justice, the FBI, and the Special Counsel.”

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), did tell CNN Friday that he would be “open” to considering bills to protect Mueller but said that he still doesn’t believe Trump would fire Mueller. However, Republican leaders have yet to weigh in on the matter.

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC), one of the co-sponsors for a bill to protect to the special counsel, now says that its not an “urgent” matter.

“[T]he chatter that the administration is considering removing Special Counsel Mueller has completely come to a halt,” Tillis spokesperson Daniel Keylin told The Daily Beast. “In fact, the president and his administration have spoken favorably of Special Counsel Mueller’s professionalism and integrity, and recent reports indicate the investigation may soon come to an end.”

Many of the Republicans who did respond to the news Thursday night and Friday simply shrugged it off. Rep. Jason Lewis (R-MN) said he wasn’t sure he could believe the New York Times report revealing Trump’s push to fire Mueller.

“There have been so many stories on this particular quote, unquote Russia investigation, I don’t know what to believe anymore. We’ll see,” Lewis said on CNN Friday, adding that the “mainstream” media relies too heavily on anonymous sources.

Former Trump campaign and transition staffer Jason Miller said that the reports on Trump’s move to fire Mueller were “suspect.” And the hosts of Trump’s favorite cable news show, “Fox and Friends,” said that the revelation “screams of a leak from the special counsel.”

Fox News’ Sean Hannity at first questioned the New York Times’ reporting, but when his own network confirmed the story, he argued that Trump had the right to question Mueller’s credibility.

Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT) found the silver lining in the reports and pointed out that White House Counsel Don McGahn stopped Trump from firing Mueller.

“If it’s true, it would be concerning to me,” Stewart told CNN’s Chris Cuomo Thursday night. “But it would also show that the process worked, that the people and the organization around the President did what they needed to do and that the outcome was actually the right outcome and that was Mr. Mueller wasn’t fired.”

Read More →

A small coalition of senators from both sides of the aisle attempting to hammer out an immigration deal in the next few weeks has ballooned into a working group of dozens, many of whom have little to no experience with immigration policy.

With the March 5 deadline for protecting DACA recipients from deportation looming, Senate staffers tell TPM the “unwieldy” group of nearly 40 is still talking “in broad strokes.” If they can’t put together a bill by Feb. 8—the deadline imposed as part of the deal to end the government shutdown—the proposal crafted by Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), which has already been rejected by the White House, may be the “only game in town.”

Read More →

Rep. Pat Meehan (R-PA) will retire at the end of his term, he told GOP leaders Thursday, days after it became public that a senior staffer had accused him of sexual misconduct and he’d settled using taxpayer dollars.

Meehan’s decision comes after he sought to defend his relationship with a former aide, arguing it had never been sexual in nature while at the same time admitting that he’d acted inappropriately toward her.

The congressman until recently sat on the powerful House Ethics Committee that oversaw investigations of scandals, including sexual harassment claims, and his burgeoning scandal threatened to further damage the national image of a party that’s already struggling badly with female voters in recent polls and elections.

His decision to retire opens up a swing House seat in suburban Philadelphia. Democrats would likely be favored to win this seat in what’s shaping up to be a good year, and a recent state Supreme Court ruling that the GOP-drawn congressional map is an illegal partisan gerrymander may make the district even more Democratic, giving the party a prime pickup opportunity.

Republicans walked a fine line in acknowledging Meehan’s decision to leave, declining to criticize him directly while promising to hold his seat.

“While I’m disappointed by the circumstances leading to Congressman Meehan’s retirement, I thank him for his dedication to his district. We must always hold ourselves to the highest possible standard – especially while serving in Congress,” National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Steve Stivers (R-OH) said in a Thursday night statement. “I am confident that the voters of Pennsylvania’s 7th District will elect a strong conservative who will represent their values.”

Read More →