In it, but not of it. TPM DC

As the Trump administration slowly works to reunite most, but not all, of the thousands of migrant parents and children it forcibly separated, there is a growing call from Republicans and administration officials to keep immigrant families locked up for the entirety of their bids for asylum or legal status, which could take months or years.

Detaining children for more than 20 days is currently illegal, but the GOP is considering several approaches to make it happen. On Capitol Hill, Republicans have introduced multiple bills that would repeal the decades-old legal protections for children in immigration facilities and allow for indefinite family detention, and ICE officials asked Congress directly on Tuesday to pass them.

“Give us the authority to hold the family as a family unit during the pendency of their immigration removal proceedings,” ICE Executive Associate Director Matthew Albence said. 

The administration could also attempt to chip away at Flores through the agency rule-making process, and while a federal judge recently rejected the Trump administration’s motion to overturn the Flores settlement, which created those legal protections, officials said Tuesday that they may appeal that ruling.

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On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee held the first and possibly only congressional oversight hearing on the Trump administration immigration policies that led to the forced separation of thousands of parents and children. At the hearing, administration officials revealed that hundreds of children remain separated nearly a week after a court-imposed deadline to reunite them, that pregnant detainees can be shackled as long as they are not in “active labor” and that there was significant internal pushback within agencies as the family separation policy was being developed by President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.  

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With just under 100 days until the 2018 midterm elections, the Senate map continues to contain plenty of uncertainty. But Democrats’ optimism (and GOP panic) about the House doesn’t stretch to the other side of Congress.

Democrats are facing a historically bad Senate map, playing defense in deep red territory with far fewer options for pickup opportunities than most years. That means in many of the country’s key Senate races, President Trump remains an ace in the hole rather than an albatross for Republicans — and Democrats face a much tougher task at netting the two seats needed for a 51-49 Senate majority than would be expected given the president’s unpopularity nationally.

Democrats began the election cycle expecting to lose some Senate seats and holding zero hope for winning back Senate control. But Sen. Doug Jones’ (D-AL) shocking upset victory over the fatally flawed Roy Moore last winter and Trump’s continued struggles with voters have given them hope of minimizing losses — and an outside shot at winning Senate control if everything breaks their way.

There are at least a dozen Senate seats that could be competitive, and seven races that strategists in both parties view as the toughest fights. Democrats see solid opportunities to pick up seats in a trio of Senate races, and Republicans are bullish about knocking off four Senate Democratic incumbents. The general consensus among numerous Senate campaign strategists TPM talked to in recent days is the most likely outcome is a wash, with net gains of a seat or two for Republicans more likely than Democrats’ hopes of gaining seats — but small changes in the national environment, like a marginal improvement for Trump nationally or his trade war damaging him with GOP-leaning rural voters, could tip all the races one way or the other. And there’s always the chance that a candidate implodes.

“If the election were held today I think we’d win two Democratic seats and they’d win two Republican seats. But I fear things could get worse. You’ve still got to give the edge to Republicans on holding the Senate, but if everything breaks against Republicans together, we could find ourselves in the minority,” one GOP campaign strategist told TPM.

In true wave elections, the party with the advantage tends to win most or all of the close Senate races unless candidates self-immolate a la Moore or Todd Akin — that was true for the GOP in 2014, and for Democrats in 2008 and 2006.

If there are seven tossup Senate races at the end, someone’s going to win five,” said one senior Democrat.

That could catapult Democrats to an improbable majority in the Senate — or lead to losses of two or more seats for them if things break the other way.

But the usual dynamic may not be quite as true this year. Trump’s numbers are weak enough, and Democrats are fired up enough even in red states, to suggest a wave, but the GOP base remains intensely loyal to the president and fairly excited to vote. That matters, especially since Democrats are defending five states where he won by at least a 20-point margin. Most true wave elections have one side much more enthusiastic to vote than the other, and while Democrats have a clear enthusiasm gap polls suggest the GOP base isn’t as depressed in rural areas as it was the last time Democrats swept to congressional control more than a decade ago.

That means that Democrats are feeling better about their chances in the Senate than they did early last year — but they could very well win the House and still lose seats in the upper chamber.

I think we’ll see Republicans emerge with a number that is sustainable to hold the [Senate] majority in 2020 and Democrats with a majority in the House that’s big enough to govern but doesn’t put it out of reach for 2020,” said one top GOP strategist. “Every time I look at the Senate I want to expand the map [with resources], and every time I look at the House I want to build the walls higher.”

Party loyalists are unsurprisingly more bullish about their own party’s chances for gains than the other side. But there’s a fair amount of agreement over which states are going to be the closest — and where each party is in the most trouble. Here’s what they have to say.

Democratic pickup opportunities: Nevada, Arizona, Tennessee

Democrats have a strong chance of flipping three Senate seats their way, with a two others that are interesting enough to keep tabs on but are unlikely to flip.

In Nevada, strategists in both parties say Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) has a better than even chance at knocking off Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV). The fast-diversifying state has trended blue, and while Heller got lucky when Danny Tarkanian dropped his primary challenge early this year, the senator’s votes to repeal Obamacare and moves to embrace Trump in a state the president lost in 2016 were already on the record by then.

Some Democrats are even more bullish about the race to replace retiring Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) — one strategist called it a “chip shot” for his party.

Democrats have coalesced behind Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), a bulldog of a candidate who’s posted huge fundraising figures and has carefully burnished her profile as a moderate since winning her seat in Congress after earning a much more liberal reputation in the statehouse.

On the other hand, Republicans are staring down a major primary headache. While they believe Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ), the establishment favorite, will prevail for the nomination over former state Sen. Kelli Ward (R) and former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio (R), a pair of hardline conservatives, she’s had to work hard to woo immigration hardliners in the deeply polarized state in order to be able to stave them off. That makes it much harder for her to swing back to the center should she win her August 28 primary, and has given Sinema a massive fundraising start.

Public and private polls in both states have found Democrats ahead, though Republicans say Heller and McSally have looked better in recent numbers.

Democrats are also bullish about former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen’s (D) chances against Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN). Bredesen remains popular in the red state from his time in office last decade and has been using his vast personal wealth to self-fund his race, giving him an early advantage on the air.

Former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen (D) greets guests at a groundbreaking event for a new Tyson Foods chicken processing plant in Humboldt, Tennessee last May. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Bredesen has held a narrow lead in most early public and private polls, though that may not hold up given the state’s strongly conservative tilt and is partly because of his higher name identification.

Republicans scoff at the idea that they’ll blow an open race in a state this red — “We’re going to hang onto Tennessee unless she botches things royally,” one Republican who knows the state well told TPM.

But Democrats think that Blackburn’s bill that critics charge made the opiate problem significantly harder to combat could damage her badly with GOP-leaning voters, and could give Bredesen just enough space to eke out a victory.

Democrats hope they get lucky and can win in ruby-red Mississippi if Republicans nominate hardliner Chris McDaniel over appointed Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) in the all-party November election. But even if that happens, the runoff election will occur after the rest of the Senate. If that seat will determine Senate control, it will make it much harder for former U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy (D) to make the race about McDaniel and much easier for Republicans to nationalize the race, so it’s unlikely that this seat can get Democrats to victory.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) has also been printing money against Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), but few strategists in either party think there’s a real chance he can pull off a win in the Lone Star state.

That’s the good news for Democrats. But they’re on defense in more places than they’re playing offense.

Democrats on defense: North Dakota, Missouri, Indiana, Florida

Democrats believe they’ve been able to shrink the map since early last year. Ten incumbents sit in states Trump won, including five in states Trump won handily, but most strategists think just four are in real trouble: Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Joe Donnelly (D-IN) and Bill Nelson (D-FL).

Republicans believe they’re almost certain to beat Heitkamp after seeing months of polling showing her trailing Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND). Democrats believe the race is tied and she could grind out a win driven by her strong personal brand and missteps from loose cannon Cramer, but admit she’s their most vulnerable incumbent given the state’s deep red hue. She won her last race by less than 2,000 votes, and that might be the best-case scenario for her this time around.

Two other red-state Democrats are in for bloody battles, though strategists believe they’re in better shape. There’s some debate about whether McCaskill or Donnelly is in more trouble, but most Democrats believe both are in coin-flip races at best, while many Republicans think they’ll beat one or both of them.

“There’s significant differences between North Dakota and the next-toughest states,” one top Senate Democratic strategist told TPM.

McCaskill is a dogged campaigner and has a major cash advantage over her opponent, Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley (R). But after a rough spring, Republicans believe he’s turned the corner — and she’s faced a spate of tough headlines in recent weeks. On top of that, McCaskill has done little to break with her party compared to the other red-state Democrats, making it harder for her to win cross-party support.

<<enter caption here>> on July 19, 2018 in Washington, DC.
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) speaks on Capitol Hill on healthcare in July. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Many Republicans admit that Hawley is a lackluster, stiff campaigner, and worry he will get outworked in the race’s closing months and could still fall short in a year where the Democratic base is more ginned up to vote in spite of Trump’s strong numbers in the state. The race is tied right now, with Republicans more confident than Democrats that they’ll pull this seat out.

Donnelly has done more to woo independents and Republicans than McCaskill, but he’s not in as good financial shape (it’s a lot harder to woo Democratic donors when you’re splitting with them on key issues like backing Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch).

Democrats are hopeful that they can sufficiently tar businessman Mike Braun (R) as a fat cat out for himself, and have leaned heavily into attacks on his record of selling imported goods and accusations that he mistreated his workers. Republicans think they can neutralize or win this fight by slamming “Mexico Joe” for his stake in a family company that outsourced jobs.

Strategists in both parties think their guy can win this seat, but most expect it’ll be a tight race through the finish.

Republicans are also bullish about Florida. Wealthy Gov. Rick Scott (R) is pouring in huge sums and will vastly outspend Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL). Democrats worry the longtime senator hasn’t shaken off the rust fast enough and is facing a much more aggressive candidate.

Scott’s approval ratings are near the highest in his eight years as governor and has led in some recent public polling, though pollsters in both parties think the race is unlikely to be won on either side by more than a point or two (it is Florida, after all). The diverse swing state is a lot easier than a lot of Democrats’ other defensive terrain, and Trump’s weak standing could hurt Scott, who has tied himself to the president, more than other GOP candidates. But strategists in both parties think the race could go either way.

I’m worried about Florida,” said one Senate Democratic strategist. “It’d be terrible if we hold onto these really tough seats but lose Florida.”

Republicans are also hopeful they might be able to put another seat seriously into play, most likely against red-state Sens. Jon Tester (D-MT) or Joe Manchin (D-WV). Both have posted strong polling numbers and face flawed opponents, but are running on very tough terrain. Some Republicans still hope they could force a tough race against Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) or potentially even Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) or appointed Sen. Tina Smith (D-MN), but none of those races appear particularly close right now.

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The Trump administration has admitted in court that it deported at least 468 immigrant parents without their children, and while those families are entitled under a federal court order to the chance to be reunified, the Trump administration has yet to make any effort to find them.

“We don’t keep track of individuals once they’ve been deported,” Matthew Albence, the head of ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations, told reporters on a conference call Thursday. Asked what the plan is now for reuniting hundreds of children in U.S. custody with parents already removed from the country, a Health and Human Services official demurred, saying they are awaiting instructions from federal courts.

In this vacuum, a host of advocacy and faith-based groups have mobilized, launching a sprawling, transnational effort to track down hundreds of parents and ask them whether they want to their child returned to them or to leave them behind in the United States to pursue asylum on their own.  

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At the latest federal court hearing over the ongoing migrant family separation crisis, U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw took the Trump administration to task for only reuniting about 1,442 of the more than 2,551 children by the court’s July 26 deadline. Sabraw took particular issue with the government’s lack of progress in finding and contacting the estimated 468 parents who were deported without their children. Hundreds more have been released into the U.S. interior and the Trump administration claims they are not able to find them.

“The government is at fault for losing several hundred parents in the process and that’s where we go next,” Sabraw said, adding that he is far from confident that the administration has made the necessary changes in inter-agency cooperation to ensure something like this never happens again.

“Each (department) was like its own stovepipe, each had its own boss, and they did not communicate,” he said. “What was lost in the process was the family.”

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Scott Walker was among the first to trip the alarm.

The Wisconsin governor started sending smoke signals about a “wake up call for Republicans” in the state back in January, when a Democrat won a state Senate special election in a rural, red district. A subsequent double-digit Democratic victory for a state Supreme Court seat showed the “risk of a #BlueWave,” Walker cautioned.

In April, the two-term incumbent predicted that this year’s reelection battle “is going to be tougher than any one I have been involved with, including the [2012] recall.”

On Thursday, Walker received the latest sign that he may be right. An NBC News-Marist poll brought the worst news in what has, so far, been a relatively smooth race for him.

Only 34 percent of Wisconsin’s registered voters said Walker deserves a third term, while 61 percent said it was “time to give a new person a chance.” In a hypothetical head-to-head matchup with state schools superintendent Tony Evers, the Democratic frontrunner, Evers led Walker 54 percent to 41 percent.

Though he believes the NBC poll’s sample was “too Democratic,” the results, said Wisconsin Republican strategist Bill McCoshen, “should send another wake-up call to the GOP base not to take the Governor’s race for granted.”

The Democratic Governor’s Association is investing heavily in the election, setting aside $4.5 million for ad buys for whichever of the eight Democrats still in the race wins the Aug. 14 primary.

DGA communications director Jared Leopold told TPM that the Wisconsin gubernatorial contest “will be one of the biggest and most competitive races of the cycle.”

Walker’s campaign, the Republican Governor’s Association, and the Wisconsin Republican Party did not return TPM’s multiple requests for comment.

No one thinks the road ahead will be easy for the eventual Democratic nominee. A Marquette Law School poll out last week had Walker a few points ahead in head-to-head match-ups against all eight of his Democratic opponents.

A powerful incumbent who has done much to advance a hard-right agenda—eviscerating unions, restricting abortion access and voting rights, stripping environmental protections—Walker has the full backing of the Wisconsin GOP. He has $6 million cash on hand, and has for months been churning out sunny TV ads that paint his legacy in a benign light.

Detractors and allies alike acknowledge Walker’s unrivaled fundraising prowess in the state, assisted by the Koch brothers’ network. They also note he won the contentious 2012 recall race.

But polling suggests that Walker has a legitimate threat in Evers, the mild-mannered head of Wisconsin schools who has thrice won statewide elections. Though Evers trailed some of his Democratic challengers in fundraising, with a meager $307,000 cash on hand as of mid-July, he has consistently led in the polls by double-digit margins and has far greater name recognition than the rest of the field.

As McCoshen, the GOP strategist noted, the NBC poll allows Evers “a much easier time convincing undecided Dems that he is the right guy to take on Walker.” A decisive win in the primary would give Evers “a huge bounce heading into the general,” McCoshen said.

Evers told TPM he is already gearing up for the next phase of the race.

“The most difficult piece will be transitioning from the primary race to a general, but that’ll be done in a short period of time and we’re clearly already thinking about that,” Evers told TPM in a recent phone interview.

Democrats see other warning signs for Walker lurking in the Marquette poll, where only 3 percent of respondents said they don’t already have an opinion about the governor.

Wisconsin Democrat Party spokesman T.J. Helmstetter said those numbers indicate that “he doesn’t really have any room to grow.” Helmstetter noted that Walker’s previous elections were held in 2010 and 2014—banner years for the GOP—and that he’s not used to campaigning in a less favorable environment.

“[Walker]’s been elected by relatively small margins when the wind was blowing at his back and now the wind appears to be blowing in his face,” the DGA’s Leopold told TPM.

Then there’s Walker’s links to the Trump administration. While neither side seems interested in making the race a referendum on the President, those ties may be some cause for concern. Trump is less popular in Wisconsin than in other states that swung his way in 2016. He had 42 percent approval in Marquette’s latest poll and only 36 percent in NBC’s, and is deeply underwater among independents in the state.

McCoshen acknowledged that Trump’s tariff war, which has caused Wisconsin-based Harley Davidson to outsource some production and taken a toll on the state’s manufacturing and agricultural industries, “might hurt Walker in the fall.”

Democrats say they’re happy to highlight those links to the President when they need to, like when Walker dispatched the National Guard to the border as the family separation crisis was unfolding. Trump is doing some of the work himself, referring to Walker as “a favorite of mine” at a joint appearance last week.

“He will be tied to Trump whether from his action or his inaction,” Evers told TPM.

By banking on the national tide of Democratic enthusiasm, Walker’s baggage, and a hyper-local campaign focused on education, jobs, and roads, Democrats hope they can squeeze out a narrow win in November.

Helmstetter, who did rapid response against Walker at the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 campaign, said that Walker’s 71-day flameout on the national stage proved he isn’t the untouchable politician that his supporters like to imagine.

“I saw up close that the guy is not invincible,” Helmstetter said. “He’s more vulnerable than he’s ever been.”

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With just over 100 days until the 2018 midterm elections, Democrats are increasingly optimistic that they’ll win control of the House — while Republicans are growing more and more alarmed about their party’s tenuous grip on their majority.

In more than a dozen interviews with top strategists in both parties conducted by TPM this week, every Democrat and all but one Republican said that the Democrats have the upper hand heading into the homestretch of the campaign. But there’s plenty of disagreement about how sure a bet that is. Different plugged-in Democrats guesstimated their chances of winning control as between 55 percent and 80 percent. Two Republicans put their party’s chances of control as low as one in three, while one optimist put it at 60 percent likelihood.

That’s a wide range of opinions held by people with access to a lot of private polling and modeling information, as well as the opposition research and TV ads that have yet to air, though the majority of strategists in both parties put Democrats’ chances of winning at between 50 and 60 percent. The one thing all strategists, granted anonymity so they could speak candidly, agree on: Democrats’ chances of winning the 23 House seats needed for control look significantly better than they did even one month ago.

Since then, President Trump’s family separation fiasco damaged him with voters, his shocking meeting in Helsinki with Russian President Vladimir Putin further weakened him, and the effects of his trade wars began alarming GOP-leaning downscale voters in farming- and manufacturing-heavy parts of the country that rely on exporting products.

After a dip during the late spring, Democrats’ lead in most recent generic congressional polls has climbed back above the 7-point threshold that strategists in both parties see as the likely break-point where Democrats will win the House. And the more Trump talks, the more Republicans cringe.

It’s hard, and has gotten harder through the summer. … It’s really hard to get out from underneath what’s going on in the White House with this president,” said one veteran GOP strategist. “I’m very scared.”

Democrats’ enthusiasm gap advantage remains large. Independents are breaking for Democrats by double-digit margins nationally and in most districts. The map of true tossup races seems to keep shifting Democrats’ way. With Sunday marking 100 days until the election, the unofficial start of the campaign’s homestretch, professional Democrats are a lot cheerier than their Republican counterparts as they look to get their clients to Congress.

The polling data we’re getting back, it’s so good that it seems hard to believe. Obviously a lot can happen, and the Democratic enthusiasm gap needs to stay where it’s at, but it’s pretty rare the trajectory of an election can be upended this late in the game,” one senior House Democratic campaign strategist told TPM.

Democrat Amy McGrath announces her congressional bid in a campaign video.

A number of Republicans glumly agree that the Democrats’ tidal wave looks big enough right now to wash over the seawall they’ve built with gerrymandered districts and some battle-tested incumbents.

I’m deeply skeptical that all the pieces will come together just right to hold the House,” one Republican strategist working on a number of House races told TPM. “In the summer, things always look race-by-race like you can use financial muscle to save enough seats. But at some point in the fall, the dam tends to break against the party in power. That’s the worry.”

Democrats are seeing some very promising polls for their candidates in surprising districts, numbers that are largely in line with what Republican strategists are seeing themselves. A few Democratic challengers are already leading GOP incumbents in head-to-head polls, something that rarely happens in polling this early, except in wave election years. In a number of other districts they’re already close to a tie — numbers that Democrats see as a sign they’ll eventually carry many of those districts. A tied race this early usually signals that the lesser-known challenger has more room to grow and is more likely to win, though some Republicans argue that it just shows the fired-up Democratic base has already coalesced and that the GOP has more opportunity to turn out less enthusiastic voters.

To do so, Republicans have promised to run on their tax cuts — but haven’t been doing that so much in the special elections so far. GOP strategists concede the issue isn’t as much of a winner as they’d hoped, especially in states like New Jersey and California where the law hurt as many wealthier suburban voters as it helped, and are hoping to message more broadly about a strong economy. Democrats plan to lean hard into discussing health care, protecting Medicare and Social Security, and economic opportunities, letting Trump’s scandals of the week stand for themselves. Both parties say Trump’s impact is massive — but largely baked in at this point, and outside their control.

Democrats are most confident about winning 10 open seats held by retiring GOP members. They’re also very bullish about defeating Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA), a congresswoman in a Democratic-leaning district that many Republicans concede is a lost cause, and Rep. Rod Blum (R-IA), who holds a traditionally Democratic blue-collar district that Trump won comfortably. From there, things get a bit harder, but some surprising polls in other places have them feeling good.

Democrats are doing especially well with female voters — a number of strategists predicted a record-setting gender gap in this election, with even GOP-leaning college-educated women going the other direction. That’s a major problem for Republicans in the suburban, Democratic-trending districts where Trump is deeply unpopular. They’re also seeing surprisingly strong numbers in the more downscale and more rural “snap-back” districts where Trump did much better than Republicans historically did. The one area that’s concerning Democrats and exciting Republicans is suburban territory where Democrats are relying on big turnout from Hispanic voters. That doesn’t seem like it’s materializing yet, a factor that could make it much harder for them to win districts from California to Texas that they’re banking on for the majority.

Democrats have serious pickup opportunities in places they haven’t been able to compete in for years without incumbents. They’ve seen polls showing their candidate narrowly leading in an open coal county district in West Virginia, even though Trump won it by a three-to-one margin. Navy Veteran Amy McGrath leads Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY) in both Democratic and GOP polling in another Appalachian district that Trump won by 15 points. They’re competitive in typically Republican seats in rural Kansas, GOP-leaning downstate Illinois and Salt Lake City, Utah. They’re also seeing some strong numbers in the Northeast and in suburban districts throughout the Midwest they haven’t been able to win for years. They’re confident they can beat some incumbents in GOP-leaning seats who haven’t had truly tough races in years (or never have), like Reps. Peter Roskam (R-IL), Kevin Yoder (R-KS) and Mike Bishop (R-MI).

They’re also feeling better than in past cycles about defeating some of the GOP’s best candidates, battle-tested incumbents like Reps. Mike Coffman (R-CO), Jeff Denham (R-CA) and Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) who’ve won tough races in the past but haven’t had to face wave elections in their swing districts.

Some Republicans agree.

“I’m scared for them. They’ll run better than textbook campaign, they’ll do everything right, but in these situations you can only outperform by so much,” said one strategist.

Rep. Dave Brat (R-VA) speaks with reporters.

A bigger frustration for Republicans has been the incumbents in normally safe seats who haven’t had tough races in the past that they worry have been caught sleeping. Those incumbents either haven’t done enough to prepare financially or continue to talk like safe-district Republicans, like Reps. Dave Brat (R-VA), Claudia Tenney (R-NY) and John Culberson (R-TX).

“The majority isn’t going to be won or lost on the candidates in tough seats who are working hard and doing everything right. It’s going to be won or lost on the candidates in the marginal seats who don’t realize this is going to be a historically tough year,” said another House GOP strategist.

A huge and expanding map with candidates ready to pounce is a reality partly because House Democratic candidates are basically printing money.

It used to be true that a half-million dollar fundraising quarter was an impressive number for a House challenger. But the 2018 election cycle is throwing that out the window. In the last three months, nearly two dozen House Democratic challengers topped $1 million (!), including Navy veteran Mikie Sherrill, who hauled in an incredible $1.9 million for the seat held by retiring Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ). More than 50 House Democratic challengers out-raised the GOP incumbents they’ll face this fall, another rarity. More than a dozen sitting House Republicans have less cash on hand than their Democratic challengers at this point, something that’s almost unheard of. Democrats also have the cash edge in nearly all of the the two dozen competitive open House seats, most of them currently held by retiring GOP members.

That’s the most concrete sign of strong Democratic campaigns — and shows in most cases they will have the money they need for a much bigger battlefield map than in past cycles, even in the expensive media markets many of their suburban seats sit in. For the first time since Citizens United opened the outside spending floodgates a decade ago, House Democrats may have the fundraising advantage, or at least parity.

Outside money could undo some of that advantage — the GOP-aligned Congressional Leadership Fund already has $71 million in the bank to spend on House races this fall, far more than Democratic outside groups. But former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s pledge to spend $80 million this fall, mostly to help Democrats retake the House, could neutralize the GOP’s outside money edge. And outside money doesn’t go nearly as far as candidates’ own cash, because they can get much lower advertising rates and more tightly control their own campaign message.

Democrats have also over-performed in most special elections throughout the year. There’s just one more big test before the general election — a GOP-leaning open House seat based in Columbus, Ohio, where Republicans are viewed as having the slight edge as the Democratic candidate has made some late missteps. But however that race turns out, the fact that it’s competitive shows how big the 2018 electoral map is.

“The playing field is so large, it’s hard to predict success,” said one Republican.

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U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw set a deadline for midnight July 26 for the Trump administration to reunite the thousands migrant families it forcibly separated under its “zero tolerance” policy.

According to a court filing submitted Thursday night, the administration managed to reunite just 1,442 of those children with their parents in ICE custody. Another 378  were released under “other appropriate circumstances,” including reunification with a parent already released by ICE or released to another relative or approved sponsor.

The administration identified 711 children they say are not “eligible” for reunification by the court’s deadline.

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Thursday marks the court-ordered deadline for the Trump administration to reunite the thousands of immigrant families it forcibly separated earlier this year, but more than 900 children will not be returned to their parents — either because their parents were deported and cannot be located, are undergoing further investigation, have an alleged criminal record, or haven’t been identified at all.

Attorneys working on the ground with the families described a reunification process marked by chaos, fear and frustration, with parents struggling to find out whether they are eligible for reunification and reportedly facing pressure from ICE officials to sign papers renouncing their asylum claims.

“There is profound trauma and confusion about this process, with many not knowing when or if they would ever see their children again,” said Royce Murray with the American Immigration Council, whose lawyers have met with more than 150 detained parents in the El Paso, Texas area over the past few days.

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President Trump’s approval ratings are in the toilet in a trio of key upper Midwestern states, according to new polling conducted for NBC News by Marist College.

Voters disapprove of the the job Trump is doing in Michigan and Wisconsin, two states he won in 2016, by double-digit margins. That’s true as well as in Minnesota, where he fell just short of winning less than two years ago.

In Michigan, 54 percent of voters disapprove of his job performance, with just 36 percent approving. Those numbers are similar in Wisconsin, with 52 percent disapproving to just 36 percent approving. In Minnesota, Trump’s disapproval rate is at 51 percent, with 38 percent approving.

Democrats lead in the generic ballot question of which party voters want to control Congress by eight points in Michigan, nine points in Wisconsin and twelve points in Minnesota.

Those are dismal numbers for Trump as he prepares for his 2020 reelection fight. And they’re even worse for down-ticket Republicans, who have a number of key races across the three states.

Republicans are staring down tough battles to hold onto the governorships of Wisconsin, where Gov. Scott Walker (R) is seeking a third term, and Michigan, which has an open seat. They still hope to seriously contest at least one Senate seat across the three states, most likely against Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI). And they are defending more than a half-dozen key House seats across the trio of states — not to mention their two best (and possibly only) House pickup opportunities, in Minnesota.

These polls were conducted mostly right after Trump’s disastrous meeting with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki last week, so he could see some improvement as that fades and the next near-daily controversy arises. But for now, Trump and Republicans should feel panicked about their standing in this trio of key states.

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