In it, but not of it. TPM DC

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has gone public in attacking just one Democratic candidate this election. On Tuesday, they’ll find out if that person will be their nominee in a key congressional race.

The DCCC went hard after former writer and liberal activist Laura Moser earlier this year, publicly blasting her for past writings they argued would disqualify her in the race, including one where she said she’d “rather have my teeth pulled out without anesthesia” than live in her grandparents’ hometown of Paris, a few hundred miles away from the Houston-area district where she’s running.

Those attacks backfired, delivering a fundraising surge for Moser and elevating her in a crowded primary field, which may have helped her make the primary runoff against more centrist attorney Democrat Lizzie Pannill Fletcher.

“If the DCCC hadn’t given Moser that bump, I do not think she would have been in the runoff,” former Harris County Democratic Chairman Lane Lewis, who backed another candidate in the first round and now supports Fletcher, told TPM.

Now the day of reckoning is almost here, with Moser and Fletcher squaring up on Tuesday in their rubber match.

The race is one of a handful of key Tuesday contests for House Democrats. In Kentucky, Lexington Mayor Jim Gray (D) and Navy veteran Amy McGrath (D) are in a barn-burner of a primary for the right to face Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY).  In Arkansas, a moderate backed by the Blue Dogs is hoping to top 50 percent and avoid a runoff to face Rep. French Hill (R-AR) in a GOP-leaning district. And Democrats will pick their nominee to face Rep. Karen Handel (R-GA) in another chance to win Georgia’s 6th race after losing a high-profile special election there last year.

I pay my dues to the DCCC, and I was not happy when I saw a front-page article [in the local paper about their attacks on Moser] — it’s kind of like fighting within the family,” Rep. Gene Green (D-TX) told TPM, saying he confronted House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) about the move. Ms. Moser actually got a lot of exposure [from the attacks], and I think that helped her get into the runoff.”

Green said that either candidate would have a tough fight against Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) in the district, which narrowly went for Hillary Clinton but has historically been a lock for the GOP ever since George H.W. Bush represented it in Congress.

“Don’t get your hopes up too much. If you look below John Culberson, every local elected official is a Republican,” he said. “It’s still an uphill battle.”

But he said Moser’s past statements could badly damage the party’s chances in the district.

Moser is clearly to the left of Fletcher. She supports single-payer healthcare and has called for impeaching President Trump, which local Democrats say could be a tough sell in the district. Some unions also take major issue with Fletcher, whose law firm was behind a major anti-union lawsuit — the state AFL-CIO lost $5.3 million in the case, and did an anti-endorsement of her in the primary (her campaign contends she wasn’t involved in the lawsuit).

Both Moser and national Democrats dispute that she made the runoff because of the attacks, saying she was already positioned to do so. But the attacks clearly turned her into a cause célèbre of left-wing groups and activists who were spoiling for a fight with the establishment.

That ugly spat is gone but has not been forgotten by either side. While the DCCC has avoided any more public involvement in the race since accidentally listing Fletcher on its “red-to-blue” endorsement list in a press release before quickly walking it back, party officials stand by their contention that Moser would doom their chances to defeat Culberson in the GOP-leaning district. DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) called her past statements “disqualifying” in a recent TV interview. And Moser told TPM that they’re “still interfering in the race and don’t let anyone tell you they’re not,” while declining to provide evidence.

Most national and local Democrats say Fletcher has the edge heading into Tuesday’s race. Moser’s fundraising boon after the DCCC attacks proved fleeting, and Fletcher has outspent her by a wide margin in the runoff. Fletcher is the only one running broadcast TV ads in the expensive Houston media market. Fletcher out-raised Moser by $175,000 to $131,000 in the homestretch of the campaign, and Moser had just $80,000 left in cash on hand to Fletcher’s $360,000 as of early May.

Remarkably, there hasn’t been a single independent expenditure during the runoff. The DCCC has been notably silent, and the pro-choice EMILY’s List, which sent mail pieces for Fletcher in the primary, has been AWOL in the runoff even as they stand by her, a sign they may think she has the race in hand.

“Lizzie has been running a strong campaign and communicating her message to voters extremely effectively. EMILY’s List endorsed Lizzie because she is a progressive leader with deep ties to her community—and we think those are the same reasons that voters will choose her to advance to the general election to take on John Culberson,” EMILY’s List spokeswoman Julie McClain Downey told TPM.

But in a runoff where strategists expect turnout to be abysmal, it’s hard to game out who will win.

“At this point, you’re looking at campaign fatigue not just by the candidates but the voters,” Lewis said.

Another late-breaking factor is Friday’s school shooting in nearby Santa Fe. While the tragedy happened on the other side of Houston and both candidates strongly support more gun control, it further complicates both candidates’ attempts to break through in a media market where it’s already almost impossible to get voters enthused about a runoff election.

“We have a lot of people phone banking and I just a had a volunteer tell me a voter said, ‘I can’t believe you’re calling right now.’ And I’m like, this is why we’re calling,” Fletcher campaign manager Erin Mincberg told TPM Friday afternoon. “Both candidates have been talking about gun safety this entire race.”

Moser’s reaction to the shooting showed the difference in styles as well as anything else.

I am fucking angry that this stuff keeps happening,” she said, before ripping Culberson for opposing gun control.

Read More →

House Republican moderates say they have enough support to force a full House vote on legislation to protect undocumented immigrants brought here as children, as tensions between them and House GOP leaders continued to escalate on Thursday.

A coalition of GOP centrists led by Reps. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) and Jeff Denham (R-CA) are sick and tired of waiting for leaders refusing to move on a fix for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. And they’re just four GOP signatories away from being able to force a full House vote on a solution, assuming all House Democrats join them in support.

Denham told reporters Thursday afternoon that the Democrats would be publicly coming onboard before the end of the day — and that more Republicans would be signing on “this week.”

“I have more than enough signatures for the discharge petition,” he said.

The push continued a day after House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) told members that forcing the votes could cost Republicans the House majority by infuriating the GOP base — and an emergency meeting with centrists convened by House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) to try to diffuse the push.

In spite of that, the number of GOP signatories to the discharge petition grew to 20 on Wednesday, with a number of Democrats joining them on Thursday.

Republican leaders are livid about the push against their authority after months of foot-dragging on moving on any DACA fix, aided by a lack of urgency from many members since the courts are set to rule on whether Trump’s decision to end the program was constitutional this fall.

But that’s not how many centrist GOP members see it — especially those from swing districts facing tough reelection battles this fall. A number of members from districts with large numbers of Hispanic constituents, like Denham and Curbelo, worry that a failure to move on a DACA fix could further imperil their seat.

And some other GOP members are simply fed up.

I’ve got the speaker’s office going ‘you’ve got to stop this shit, to try to bring a vote,'” an exasperated Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV), one of the signatories, told TPM. “Seriously, Mr. Speaker? We’re giving you the ability to write your own bill. … What is your fear for being accountable for a yes-or-no vote on a piece of legislation that was last tuned up three and a half decades ago?”

That Denham is breaking with his close friend and ally McCarthy is particularly notable.

The discharge petition would force a vote on four bills, including a much more conservative plan backed by GOP leadership that would likely fail on the House floor, two versions that could pass the full House with a combination of Democratic and moderate GOP support, and an open one that GOP leaders could fill with their own bill. That wouldn’t happen until early June at the earliest.

Even some members of GOP leadership said Thursday that they thought the party better move quickly on a solution.

Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX), the chairman of the powerful House Rules Committee who Democrats plan to target aggressively for defeat this fall in a Hispanic-heavy district, responded “every bit of it’s true” when asked if the issue could have repercussions for the party in November if Republicans don’t figure out a way to unify around a solution, saying that while he doesn’t support the discharge petition it “forces our party to say more forthrightly where we are.”

A national message about where our party is [on DACA] is still, I believe, wanting,” he said. “Leaders lead. And we’re going to have to find a good, succinct answer.”

Read More →

The State Department Inspector General is looking into why senior career officials who worked on Obama administration priorities like refugee resettlement and closing the Guantanamo Bay prison were temporarily reassigned to menial work processing Freedom of Information Act requests, the IG’s office confirmed to TPM on Thursday — reviewing whether the reassignments were politically motivated.

Read More →

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt told senators at a hearing Wednesday morning that he does not remember ordering his motorcade to use lights and sirens to cut through Washington, D.C.’s notorious traffic in non-emergency situations — such as a visit to the tony French restaurant Le Diplomate.

In response, the committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) submitted for the public record an email from Pruitt’s former security chief Pasquale “Nino” Perrotta in February that states clearly that Pruitt “encourages the use” of lights and sirens.

Read More →

A trio of moderate Democrats went down to more liberal opponents Tuesday night in key House primaries, the latest skirmishes in the battle for the direction of the party that one national Democrat described to TPM as “non-ideal outcomes.”

In the biggest race, former Rep. Brad Ashford (D-NE), a moderate who had support of national Democrats including the Democratic Congressional Committee, lost to nonprofit health care executive Kara Eastman (D) in a stunner.

Eastman ran hard on universal Medicare and supports decriminalizing marijuana. Ashford, a former Republican, basically ran his primary with a general-election message, touting the work he’d done to bring a VA clinic back to the district in ads. She’ll face off against Rep. Don Bacon (R-NE) in a slightly GOP-leaning district based in Omaha in a key test to see if Democrats can win by taking stridently progressive positions in swing districts.

Self-funding philanthropist Scott Wallace (D) also defeated Navy veteran Rachel Reddick (D) for the right to face Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) this fall in a very swingy suburban Philadelphia district. Reddick, like Ashford, had previously been a Republican — a fact Wallace made sure voters knew with his bevy of campaign ads.

“Things almost certainly got tougher in a couple districts,” the national Democrat told TPM, calling Reddick the “stronger candidate” and saying there was “no doubt” Ashford would have been the better fit for his Omaha district.

And just to the north of that district, a pro-life and anti-immigration Democrat who’d repeatedly praised President Trump lost to a more mainstream Democratic candidate. Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli (D), a sanctuary cities foe who’d applied for a job under Trump, had strong local support and high name ID. But he lost his race to former Allentown Solicitor Susan Wild, a more mainstream liberal who had the support of the pro-choice EMILY’s List. She wasn’t the most progressive candidate in the race — local pastor Greg Edwards, who had the backing of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), finished a close third — but their combined vote showed how little appetite there is for a Trump apologist in today’s Democratic Party.

The results appear to be a mixed bag at best for Democrats as they look to retake the House.

National Democrats are deeply concerned that Eastman’s single-payer views will be a tough sell in a GOP-leaning congressional district where a ton of jobs rely on the medical and insurance industries.

And while the DCCC congratulated her on her win Wednesday morning — “These primary results show Kara is running strong and she is well positioned to win this fall,” DCCC spokesman Evan Lukaske said in a statement — establishment Democrats are privately fretting that they may have hurt themselves in a prime pickup opportunity last night.

Progressive groups counter that Eastman will be able to gin up the Democratic base better — and prove to be a strong general election candidate.

“Kara Eastman taught the Democratic establishment a lesson: The way to inspire voters in 2018 is to campaign on a bold progressive agenda of Medicare for All, higher wages for workers, and other economic populist ideas that help working families and challenge corporate power. This is how Democrats can win in red, purple, and blue districts and maximize a wave in 2018,” Progressive Campaign Change Committee co-head Stephanie Taylor said in a statement.

Wallace thumped Reddick largely because he outspent her by a huge margin, and Democrats are excited he’ll be able to self-fund against Fitzpatrick in the expensive Philadelphia media market. And the DCCC released a poll showing him trailing Fitzpatrick by just 48 percent to 46 percent Wednesday morning. But most Democrats privately say they would have preferred a young female veteran in the race rather than a man who hasn’t lived in the district for decades and has left himself open to attacks on taxes because of late payments of his own taxes in Maryland.

Most are more than happy to see Morganelli fall, however. He was far outside Democratic orthodoxy, and had run some unimpressive statewide races in the past. While Wild is more liberal, Democrats think she’ll run a much more robust campaign — and don’t see any reason to put a Democrat-in-name-only into a newly drawn seat that both Hillary Clinton and President Obama would have carried.

Read More →

At a hearing Wednesday morning with embattled EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) announced that he has asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to launch yet another probe into the agency’s actions — this time scrutinizing its Twitter practices.

“I’m announcing this morning that I just requested a new GAO investigation, this one to determine if EPA violated the appropriations law banning taxpayer spending on publicity and propaganda by engaging in political speech via social media,” Udall said.

Below is the tweet in question, which Udall said is also under investigation by Office of Special Counsel.

“I was unaware of the tweet, and it should have not have occurred,” Pruitt told senators on Wednesday.

But asked repeatedly by Udall if he apologizes for the tweet, Pruitt declined to do so.

Udall’s first request for a GAO probe into Pruitt’s tenure at the agency revealed this month that his purchase of a $43,000 soundproof booth for his office without first informing Congress violated federal law.

Listing that and more than a dozen other federal investigations into Pruitt’s actions, including his first class flights, his unprecedented around-the-clock security team and allegations he retaliated against staff members, Udall excoriated Pruitt, saying, “Your tenure at the EPA has been a betrayal of the American people.”

Pruitt replied that “some of the criticism is unfounded and exaggerated.”

Read Udall’s letter:

Read More →

Former Rep. Brad Ashford (D-NE) fell short in the primary for his comeback bid to a more progressive challenger Tuesday, a stunning disappointment to national Democrats that could be a blow to the party’s chances of winning the GOP-leaning seat.

Liberal nonprofit executive Kara Eastman (D) won the Democratic nomination by a scant 1126-vote margin, a number outside the window which would trigger an automatic recount under Nebraska law. The gap is wide enough that Ashford will have a tough time overcoming it even if there is a recount.

That’s a major disappointment for national Democrats, who had banked on him making a comeback run this election.

They had gone all-in for Ashford in recent months — the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee tacitly endorsed him over Eastman early this year by putting him on their “red-to-blue” program, and a number of members helped Ashford raise money for the race.

But while Ashford basically started his general election campaign early, running ads touting his accomplishments bringing a VA medical center back to the district, Eastman ran hard to Ashford’s left on a number of issues. She declared in one campaign ad that she’s “the only candidate for Congress who stands for universal health care and ending massive tax breaks for millionaires that threaten the middle class.”

And while the primary remained quite civil — his niece is close friends with her daughter — an Eastman win would set up a far different general election campaign, one national Democrats feel far less confident about.

President Trump won the Omaha-based district by two percentage points, and Rep. Don Bacon (R-NE), a former Air Force general, proved to be a solid campaigner last election cycle.

Democrats were excited that Ashford, a moderate Republican-turned-Democrat who lost by just one point last fall, would give Bacon a tough challenge. But they worry that Eastman’s support of single-payer healthcare could prove an especially tough sell in the swing district given the high number of jobs dependent on the healthcare and health insurance industries that are based in Omaha.

Read More →