In it, but not of it. TPM DC

At an invitation-only roundtable with Capitol Hill reporters Friday morning, Rep. Steny Hoyer, the number two House Democrat, gave a full-throated defense of Democrats’ strategy of putting a thumb on the scale in primaries across the country. Hoyer was responding to criticism sparked earlier this week when The Intercept published a recording in which he urged a progressive candidate in Colorado to drop out of his race.

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Another day, another set of good polling numbers for Senate Democrats.

Democrats hold leads in the trio of their best chances to pick up Senate seats, according to new surveys released by Axios, the latest sign that they have a real shot at netting the two seats necessary to retake the Senate this fall.

The most eye-popping numbers come from Arizona, where Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) has a 51 percent to 42 percent lead over Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ) in their hypothetical matchup to replace retiring Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ). McSally, the GOP establishment favorite, is squaring off in a primary against former state Rep. Kelli Ward (R) and former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio (R). Sinema leads Ward by 51 percent to 43 percent in the survey, and has a gaping 61 percent to 32 percent lead over the well-known and deeply polarizing Arpaio.

Those numbers come in the wake of a surprisingly narrow win for Rep.-elect Debbie Lesko (R-AZ) in a ruby-red House district west of Phoenix earlier this week. She won by less than 5 percentage points in a district Trump carried by 21, results that set off alarm bells in GOP circles.

The polls, from the online company SurveyMonkey, find similarly positive results for Democrats in two other states where they got good polling news earlier this week. In their Nevada survey, Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) leads Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) by 50 percent to 44 percent. In Tennessee, former Gov. Phil Bredesen (D) has a 48 percent to 47 percent lead over Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN).

That’s a bit rosier than what Mark Mellman, a top Democratic pollster with a good track record in Nevada, found in a survey released earlier this week: In his poll, Heller led Rosen by 40 percent to 39 percent, a bad spot for an incumbent to be in but not as dire a situation as this other poll suggests. Another poll released earlier this week found Bredesen with a three-point lead over Blackburn.

Online polling still isn’t quite as trustworthy as live-caller polls, according to many experts, and one poll should never be taken as gospel. But these results are the latest to show Democrats in good position in all three states.

The party still has very narrow path to retaking the Senate: They’re defending 10 seats in states President Trump won, including five in states he carried by at least 19 percentage points. They’d need to sweep the table in those races and win two of these three seats, or sweep these seats if they lose even one of those contests. If they lose two incumbents, they’d somehow need to win these seats and pull off a huge upset in a state like Texas, likely their next-best shot on the map.

But with polls like these, Democrats have to be feeling quietly confident that they might really have a shot to pull the inside straight they need to take back the Senate.

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In a 14-7 vote Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved of legislation that would protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller from being improperly fired by President Donald Trump.

Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Thom Tillis (R-NC), the GOP sponsors of the legislation, voted for advancing it, as did Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA). All Democrats on the committee voted in favor of the bill, which was also sponsored by Sens. Chris Coons (D-DE) and Cory Booker (D-NJ). Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), who is not seeking re-election, also voted for the bill.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said last week that he didn’t think such legislation was necessary and thus did not plan on bringing it up for full vote on the Senate floor.

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Controversial West Virginia Senate candidate Don Blankenship (R) is none too pleased with the New York Times’ recent story on his campaign.

Blankenship, a former coal baron who is currently out on parole after a one-year stint in prison for his role in failing to prevent a mine explosion that killed 29 of his workers, lit into the paper and its reporter, claiming with scant evidence that the story had major factual errors.

“The reporter is clearly a communist propagandist with no American values, whatsoever,” he says in the first paragraph of a 10-paragraph screed against reporter Trip Gabriel. “Much of what he says is filled with outright lies and nearly all of the rest is simply misrepresentation. It would be too kind to call his article fake news. It is communist propaganda.”

Blankenship then goes point-by-point in an attempt to dispute some of the more interesting details in Gabriel’s story. Among his complaints:

That the story says he’s challenging the “settled facts” of the case that found him guilty of failing to follow safety measures at the mine where the tragedy occurred (he was found guilty in that case, and while he’s blamed a witch hunt led by the Obama Justice Department his argument for what actually happened has been dismissed by experts).

That he really lives in Nevada (that’s where he said his principle residence was in court).

That he had expressed admiration for China’s state-run economy (Blankenship’s exact quote: “Americans confuse the words communism and dictatorship… The Chinese are running a dictatorial capitalism and it’s very effective. That’s the way corporations are run. Corporations are not a democracy.”)

Blankenship also accuses Gabriel, with zero evidence, of colluding with a GOP super-PAC that’s trying to keep him from the nomination.

And he whines in the statement that the story is “alarming” because the paper dares to investigate “the personal lives of private citizens” — suggesting that somehow Senate candidates shouldn’t get scrutiny.

Republicans were panicked a few weeks ago that Blankenship was in a strong position to win the nomination. But that super-PAC’s efforts have appeared to be effective — a trio of recent polls have found him in third place, with Rep. Evan Jenkins (R-WV) and West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R) duking it out for victory in the May 8 primary.

But this is the latest sign that the former coal baron isn’t going to go quietly.

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — In weighing the constitutionality of President Donald Trump’s travel ban in highly-anticipated oral arguments Wednesday morning, the Supreme Court Justices returned repeatedly to the question of whether Trump’s executive order trampled on Congress’ right to set immigration policy.

On both the question of Separation of Powers and whether Trump’s anti-Muslim tweets “tainted” the legal rationale for the travel ban, the justices seemed to split along predictable ideological lines, with progressive Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor taking the lead in asking the toughest questions of the Trump administration and conservative Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch and Chief Justice John Roberts grilling the travel ban’s challengers. Justices Anthony Kennedy and Stephen Breyer were more reserved, expressing skepticism toward some of the administration’s claims but not revealing a clear desire to strike down the ban. As usual, Justice Clarence Thomas remained silent.

While no certain five-vote majority was apparent from the arguments either in support of the government or the challengers, the justices expressed a general deference to the executive branch, especially when it comes to claims of protecting national security, and did not seem eager to issue a decision stopping the ban in its tracks.

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Democrats are well-positioned to win two of their top Senate pickup opportunities, according to a pair of new polls.

Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) is in a dead heat with Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), with his reelection number below 40, in a new survey by the most reliable pollster in Nevada. And former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen (D) has a narrow lead over Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) in another poll.

Heller has a 40 percent to 39 percent lead over Rosen in Nevada in a new survey conducted by Mark Mellman, former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) longtime pollster and the man regarded by strategists in both parties as the one with the best numbers in the difficult-to-poll state. That’s a bad position to be in for an incumbent — especially as the poll shows Rosen still isn’t nearly as well-known and that President Trump’s approval rating is in the toilet in the swing state, with 39 percent of voters approving of the job he’s doing and 56 percent disapproving.

In Tennessee, Bredesen has a 46 percent to 43 percent lead over Blackburn in a new survey from Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy. That’s the latest survey to find Bredesen, a well-known former governor, in the lead in the heavily Republican state.

While the candidates have similar name recognition in the poll, Bredesen starts out the race better-liked: 43 percent of voters have a favorable view of him to just 18 percent with an unfavorable view, as opposed to Blackburn’s 35 percent to 26 percent split.

Democrats have a slim path to winning back the Senate, as they’re defending 10 seats in states Trump carried last election and Heller is the only Republican running in a seat Trump lost. But if they can hold serve in their states and win both these races — a tall order — that would give them enough for a narrow majority. They’re also bullish about picking up a seat in Arizona and have some slim hopes about Texas, though they’re playing defense in a number of tough races — Missouri, Indiana, West Virginia, Montana and North Dakota — and losses in one or more of those elections would make it significantly harder for them to win a majority.

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Early in the oral arguments Wednesday morning over the constitutionality of President Donald Trump’s travel ban, the Supreme Court’s more progressive justices grilled Solicitor General Noel Francisco about how much they should take Trump’s anti-Muslim tweets and campaign statements into account in determining whether the executive order was motivated by true national security concerns or by racial animus.

Specifically, Justice Elena Kagan asked Francisco to imagine an “out-of-the-box” President who campaigned as a “vehement anti-Semite,” and continued stoking a “hatred of Jews” during his time in office, who directs his staff to write a proclamation banning immigration from Israel.

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Aden Hassan immigrated to the United States from a Somali refugee camp just a week before President Trump’s travel ban went into effect. On Wednesday morning, he spoke before hundreds of protestors in front of the Supreme Court where the justices would be hearing a case challenging the latest iteration of the travel ban, which restricts travel from Somalia and about half a dozen other mostly Muslim countries.

Aden Hassan, a Somali refugee, speaks to reporters in front of the Supreme Court.

“I and my family came to the refugee camp 20 years ago, where there is no life, there is no food, there is no good education. When I come to the United States, I was expected there to be democracy and welcoming people, but I see that democracy is just the surface,” Hassan told the crowd, which was braving a light, misty rain. “My mother she is still in the camp. She has heart conditions. She has diabetes. I am so worried about her because she has nobody to take care of her because I am the only one.”

It’s been over a year since he’s seen his mother, because of the ban.

According to Wardah Khalid — who works with the Church World Service, which helped settle Hassan and other refugees — the resettlement numbers have “dropped drastically,” with only 11,000 refugees resettled this fiscal year.

“Right now we are only on track to settle 20,000 refugees, which is just abysmal and completely contrary to what America stands for, as a country that has always stood for welcome and refuge,” she told TPM outside of the courthouse, about an hour before oral arguments were scheduled to begin.

Hassan was just one of dozens present at the Supreme Court’s front patio who said the ban has personally affected their lives.

Jaylani Hussein, the executive director of CAIR Minnesota who is originally from Somalia, said that his family and friends have been blocked from traveling by the ban.

“This has impacted all of us, and it has impacted us in many ways, including people leaving the country,” Hussein told TPM. ” I remember talking to a family of three, where the husband was so worried — even though he had a clear path to citizenship — he was so worried that he’d travel in the middle of winter and entered Canada. It has created a lot of fear.”

Georgetown law professor Arjun Sethi protests Trump’s travel ban at the Supreme Court.

The demonstrators said they hoped, beyond considering the legal issues surrounding the policy, that the justices would think of its practical effects.

Arjun Sethi, a Georgetown Law professor, said that the travel ban was a “destructive policy that has separated families, deprived people of life-saving health care, denied people education and deferred dreams.”

“It would be very easy for the Supreme Court justices to just focus on the legalese, but President Trump from the very beginning has made is intent clear all along,” Sethi told TPM, referencing Trump’s campaign promises to ban Muslims from entering the United States. “The fact of the matter is this is a policy that is rooted in discriminatory intent, rooted in bigotry and the court should call it out as such.”

Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA), a sponsor of legislation that would defund implementation of Trump’s ban, spoke to the crowd and recalled the scene at Los Angeles airport the weekend the administration imposed the first version of the ban in January 2017.

“I saw hundreds of people that turned into thousands of people that came out from every race, every religion to protest the Muslim ban and make sure that travelers that came here felt safe,” Chu said.

The initial iteration of the travel ban was struck down by courts, and the second attempt also saw multiple rulings invalidating it, though the Supreme Court allowed it to go forward with some tailoring.  As for the third version, which the Supreme Court weighed Wednesday, the high court allowed it to go into full effect in December while the justices prepared to hear the case.

“While lawyers are inside showing that this ban violates our laws, the people outside are declaring that it violates our American values,” Chu told the crowd. In front of the stage were mock passports from Sudan, Libya and other countries affected by the ban.

The program of speakers included Libyan-American poet Thana Hasan.

She recited one of her poems, which had the refrain, “you bomb us, then ban us.”

“Please don’t bomb us if you plan on banning us,” she said.

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Another Tuesday, another stronger-than-normal performance for Democrats in special elections.

Former Arizona state Sen. Debbie Lesko (R) defeated Democratic physician Hiral Tiperneni in a heavily Republican congressional district Tuesday night, with the Associated Press calling the race shortly after 11 p.m. eastern time.

But the margin was nowhere near Republicans’ normal performance in the ruby-red district: Lesko led Tiperneni by just 53 percent to 47 percent with early votes counted, a large majority of the votes expected to be cast in the election.

If those numbers hold up, that’s a massive swing towards Democrats — the latest major improvement over earlier performance for the party since Donald Trump became president. Trump carried the district by a 21-point margin in 2016, and Mitt Romney carried it by an even wider 25-point margin in 2012. The seat opened up with the resignation of disgraced Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ).

“There are no moral victories in politics, but I’m celebrating tonight,” Democratic strategist Andy Barr, who has deep Arizona ties, told TPM as the results rolled in. “The median age of early voters was 68 and that district is about the whitest in the state. If we’re losing by six in that scenario then the whole state opens up.”

Lesko’s rather narrow win in the west suburban Phoenix district came after national Republican groups spent more than $1 million to hang onto the district, and the result comes just weeks after Democrats overcame a big spending deficit to win another heavily Republican House seat in Pennsylvania last month.

Strategists in both parties had been doubtful that the seat was in real jeopardy in the race’s closing days. But Democrats were already casting a single-digit margin as a big victory for them in a part of the state where they haven’t even tried to compete for decades.

Republican leaders publicly tried to put a brave face on the narrow win.

“Congratulations to Debbie on her hard-fought victory,” House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) said in a statement. “Her victory proves that Republicans have a positive record to run on this fall and we need to spend the next seven months aggressively selling our message to the American people.

Democrats also flipped a statehouse seat in New York they haven’t held in three decades Tuesday night — their 40th statehouse pickup of the Trump era. Their candidate’s margin of victory in the Long Island-based seat was considerably larger than its normally swing nature.

Special elections often magnify an enthusiasm gap between parties. But these results are a great sign for House Democrats as they look to win back the lower chamber — as well as Arizona Democrats who hope to seize retiring Sen. Jeff Flake’s (R-AZ) seat and possibly defeat Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) this fall.

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On Wednesday, in its final oral argument of the term, the Supreme Court will consider whether President Donald Trump’s ban on immigrants and refugees from Libya, Iran, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, North Korea, Venezuela and Chad can be permanent.

At the heart of the travel ban case is how much power the executive branch has over the U.S. immigration system, whether banning citizens of majority-Muslim countries violates the First Amendment, and whether Trump’s tweets and campaign speeches can be used as evidence that the policy was motivated by anti-Muslim animus.

The Supreme Court voted in December, with only two justices publicly dissenting, to stay a lower court’s ruling against the ban and allow it to go into effect — indicating that they’re leaning toward giving the administration the benefit of the doubt. But with a growing body of evidence that Trump and some of his advisers routinely express anti-Muslim animus, challengers hope the court will instead strike it down.

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