The Twitter account for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s campaign was ready to remind everyone, in the minutes after the Supreme Court upheld President Trump’s travel ban, of the unprecedented power grab that helped secure such a decision.
The tweet was photo of McConnell going in for a hand shake with Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, who filled the absence on the bench created by Justice Scalia Antonin Scalia’s death in 2016 and provided the fifth vote upholding the ban Tuesday.
McConnell notoriously blocked then-President Barack Obama from filling the seat with his own choice, D.C. Appeals Court Judge Merrick Garland, and refused to grant the Obama nominee even a committee hearing.
The seat stayed open well over a year, while the prospect of a Republican-appointed Supreme Court justice to fill the pivotal ninth seat appeared to help drive conservatives otherwise skeptical of Trump to the ballot box in 2016, according to exit polls.
Trump nominated Gorsuch, who has quickly emerged as one of the most conservative justices on the court, soon after his inauguration and Senate Republicans led by McConnell blew up the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees to see him confirmed.
McConnell, meanwhile, has bragged that blocking Garland was “the most consequential decision I’ve made in my entire public career.”
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 Tuesday morning to uphold the most recent iteration of President Donald Trump’s ban on immigrants and refugees from Libya, Iran, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, North Korea, Venezuela and Chad, rebuffing challengers’ arguments that the President’s policy was motivated by the racial animus toward Muslims that he repeatedly expressed in campaign speeches and on social media.
It took weeks, but national Democrats finally got the candidate they wanted to face Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA).
Democrat Hans Keirstead conceded to opponent Harley Rouda on Sunday night, shortly after the last of the Orange County district’s votes were counted, leaving Rouda with a 126-vote lead.
“After weeks of hard work counting every ballot, I congratulate Harley Rouda on advancing to the general election,” Keirstead, a scientist, said in a Facebook post on Sunday. “I know the Rouda campaign values the importance of science and facts in public policy, and they will give voice to that message. I pledge my support and will work in unison with Harley Rouda to make sure Democrats and science prevail in November.”
That newfound comity stands in stark contrast to the pair’s close and sometimes nasty primary fight, which Democrats had worried could lead to Republican Scott Baugh beating both of them in the all-party primary to face Rohrabacher in the fall. That nearly happened, but major investments by national Democrats to take down Baugh helped push him into 4th place, just 2,500 votes behind Rouda.
The race was one of a handful where Democrats were worried they might fail to get a candidate through because of California’s unusual top-two primary system. But a concerted effort by national Democrats kept that from happening.
Keirstead got the state Democratic Party’s endorsement early on and was an early candidate touted by national Democrats. But some #metoo accusations led local groups like Indivisible to abandon him in favor of Rouda, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee followed suit.
National Democrats believe Rouda’s nomination gives them a strong chance at beating Rohrabacher in the fall in a traditionally Republican coastal Orange County seat that has trended their way in recent years, especially given Rohrabacher’s baggage as a Russia apologist and other idiosyncratic views.
The lengthy vote count also illustrates a more nausea-inducing fact for many political observers: If the battle for the House is decided by just a handful of seats, California’s snail’s-pace vote counting could leave the fate of the House undecided for weeks after the election. The state has more than a half-dozen competitive races, and as this primary and races from earlier years prove, the closer contests often take weeks to sort through.
The Supreme Court for a second time sided with Texas in a years-long legal fight starting with legislative maps its statehouse drew in 2011.
In a 5-4 majority opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito, the high court reversed a lower court’s finding that that the map that Texas adopted in 2013 was adopted with a discriminatory intent. The map had been okayed by the lower court as a temporary fix for the 2012 election. But the lower court rejected the 2013 map as a permanent solution — a decision the Supreme Court largely reversed Monday, with the exception of one Texas House district.
Texas’ legislative map was first found to be racially discriminatory under the Voting Rights Act by the lower court — a three-judge panel — in 2011, but the Supreme Court ordered the lower court to narrow its remedy for fixing the map going into the 2012 elections.
The Texas legislature then rushed to adopt the map in 2013, even as the lower court said it was still assessing the effects of the map. The lower court then later ruled that Texas in doing so was continuing to act with the intent of racial discrimination — a finding that threatened to put the state back under the so-called pre-clearance regime that the Supreme Court gutted in 2013 in Shelby County v. Holder.
The Supreme Court on Monday was weighing in on appeal of the lower court’s finding that the intentional discrimination of the 2011 map had not been wiped away by the state adopting in 2013 the court-ordered map. The case was called Abbot v. Perez.
“We now hold that the three-judge court committed a fundamental legal error. It was the challengers’ burden to show that the 2013 Legislature acted with discriminatory
intent when it enacted plans that the court itself had produced,” Alito wrote. “The 2013 Legislature was not obligated to show that it had ‘cured’ the unlawful intent that the court attributed to the 2011 Legislature. Thus, the essential pillar of the three-judge court’s reasoning was critically flawed.”
Much of Alito’s opinion dealt with the procedural issue of whether Texas had appealed the case to the Supreme Court too early given that the lower court was still working on a remedy. The conservative majority rejected the argument that Texas’s appeal was premature.
Moving on to the merits of the case, Alito said that “when all the relevant evidence in the record is taken into account, it is plainly insufficient to prove that the 2013 Legislature acted in bad faith and engaged in intentional discrimination.”
In addition to reversing the lower court’s intentional discrimination decision, the Supreme Court on Monday overturned its decision that three legislative districts should be invalidated because they had a discriminatory effect, but it allowed to stand the court’s decision that a fourth district, a state House district, was an impermissible racial gerrymander.
Justice Clarence Thomas, joined by Justice Neil Gorsuch, filed a brief concurring opinion that said they did not believe the Voting Rights Act could be applied to redistricting.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor, in a dissent joined by the court’s three other liberals, bashed the majority for guaranteeing Texas “continued use of much of its discriminatory maps.”
“This disregard of both precedent and fact comes at serious costs to our democracy. It means that, after years of litigation and undeniable proof of intentional discrimination, minority voters in Texas—despite constituting a majority of the population within the State—will continue to be underrepresented in the political process,” she wrote. “Those voters must return to the polls in 2018 and 2020 with the knowledge that their ability to exercise meaningfully their right to vote has been burdened by the manipulation of district lines specifically designed to target their communities and minimize their political will. The fundamental right to vote is too precious to be disregarded in this manner.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) is choosing sides in his state’s hotly contested GOP Senate primary.
Ryan and Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) made a joint endorsement of Wisconsin state Sen. Leah Vukmir (R) Monday morning, backing her over former Marine Kevin Nicholson (R).
“Leah is a longtime friend of ours and she has been a conservative partner among grassroots Republicans for years. She has proven that in the face of opposition, she will never waver and will work relentlessly for the causes that she believes in,” the pair wrote in an op-ed on RightWisconsin, saying she “stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Governor Scott Walker to advance critical reforms that would create jobs and improve our overall economy.”
The duo join much of Wisconsin’s Republican establishment in backing Vukmir over Nicholson, a former Democrat who has re-emerged as a hardline conservative in the race. The state Republican Party has officially endorsed Vukmir. She also has the tacit support of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), who pledged to stay neutral in the race but whose son is working for Vukmir and whose wife has endorsed her.
But Nicholson has the backing of deep-pocketed conservative donor Dick Uihlein, a powerful figure in the state. A recent Marquette University found him with a 37 percent to 32 percent lead in race.
Whoever wins the late summer primary is expected to face an uphill battle against Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI). Republicans had initially seen this race as a tossup, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) didn’t even mention it when listing this year’s top competitive races in a recent interview, and recent polling has found Baldwin with a lead in the high single digits. Most GOP strategists believe Vukmir would stand a better chance, but there’s not full consensus on that point.
House Republicans say they’re charging forward with a vote this week on a sweeping immigration bill that would fund President Trump’s border wall, slash legal immigration, make it more difficult for migrants to seek asylum, give DACA recipients a path to citizenship, and end the separation of migrant parents and children by detaining them together indefinitely.
But the deep, long-standing divisions within the Republican caucus on immigration, exacerbated by a mercurial president repeatedly undermining GOP leaders’ efforts to pass a bill, mean the chances of legislation making it to Trump’s desk are slim to none.
Adding to the immigration angst is the impending midterm election, in which the GOP faces an uphill battle to maintain control of the House. Torn between hardline conservative primary voters opposed to any path to citizenship for Dreamers or leniency for families crossing the border and more moderate suburban voters they need to hold key swing seats in the general election, lawmakers look increasingly unlikely to rally behind Speaker Paul Ryan’s so-called “compromise” bill.
The wheels began coming off Republicans’ latest push to pass an immigration bill early last week, with the far-right wing of the House slamming Ryan’s fairly conservative proposal for granting DACA recipients a path to citizenship and for cutting just some, not all, forms of family-based immigration.
“It’s amnesty. It doesn’t protect the American worker. Chain migration is still in it,” grumbled Rep. Lou Bartletta (R-PA), who is currently running for the Senate, just after the delay was announced. “I’m a big fat ‘no’ in capital letters and I’m going to encourage other people to vote no.”
“A lot of my constituents do not like this bill,” added Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL). “They’re worried about amnesty being granted.”
In the face of this backlash, Ryan delayed the original Thursday floor vote until Friday, and then pushed it into this week, raising doubts the vote would happen at all. As the effort crumbled, the finger-pointing began.
“The Freedom Caucus, it seems to me, got 80 to 90 percent of what they what,” groused Rep. Peter King (R-NY) to TPM. “That should be enough. This is probably one of the most consensus-type bills possible on such a controversial issue within our party. So it’s hard to see what their agenda is. It’s their way or the highway, I guess.”
Amid the distrust and division within the GOP caucus — which escalated into a shouting match on the House floor on Wednesday between the Ryan and the leader of the Freedom Caucus — President Trump has, by many accounts, made the situation markedly worse.
First, amid growing outrage over the administration’s mass-separation of migrant children and parents, the president insisted for days that only congressional action could address the situation. He then made an abrupt about-face and signed an executive order that purports to keep families together in immigration detention. Both the text of the executive order and administration statements over the next few days called on Congress to pass legislation, but the House’s already precarious efforts to do so were thrown further off course by President Trump.
Ahead of the President’s Tuesday visit to Capitol Hill, GOP lawmakers voiced hopes that Trump would rally them behind one of the two competing immigration bills and give them clarity on what he was willing to sign. Instead, Trump half-heartedly endorsed both bills, refused to take questions, and insulted Freedom Caucus member Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC) — alienating Sanford’s allies whose votes are desperately needed to pass a bill.
“The president needs to understand that that may have actually lost him votes at this meeting,” Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID) told TPM. “The reason he was there was to emphasize he had our backs and I think a different message was sent that day.”
As the House GOP leadership struggled to whip votes for their bill in the wake of this meeting, Trump wondered aloud “what is the purpose of the House doing good immigration bills” if they were likely to fail in the Senate, where Republicans have a much narrower majority. Then, on Friday, Trump tweeted again, telling House Republicans they were “wasting their time on Immigration.”
As leadership continued to insist a vote will be held, some lawmakers pointed to the lawmaker’s tweet as the final nail in the coffin.
“Torpedoed by tweet,” Rep. Ryan Costello quipped. “Tweet-pedoed.”
A unifying crisis
This week, even as the White House and many GOP lawmakers blamed the Democratic minority for their inability to pass an immigration bill, others openly admitted that the divided Republican caucus tends to only come together when motivated by a genuine crisis.
Over the past year, the crisis of the Trump administration abolishing the DACA program — putting hundreds of thousands of young immigrants at risk of deportation — was temporarily diffused by federal courts. With President Trump’s frequent flip-flopping making the already-difficult negotiations nearly impossible, Republican efforts to pass a bill to protect Dreamers subsequently fizzled.
Another crisis of Trump’s own making —the zero tolerance policy tearing apart migrant families — spurred lawmakers back into action. But many say Trump’s executive order has removed the urgency for them to act, even though the order still allows the administration to separate migrant children and parents and does nothing to reunite the thousands already separated.
“If the problem is no longer there, the Congress will definitely not act to solve a future problem,” Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) told reporters. “If you want to solve the problem, the pressure of trying to get families and kids back together in the shortest period of time is probably the kind of dynamic we need.”
Rep. Peter King (R-NY) echoed this sentiment, telling TPM: “This immediate crisis seems to be going away. And if they aren’t arresting families every weekend, then yeah, it’s going away, from the public eye. And if it’s not in the public eye, if you don’t have the dramatic footage, there is always another issue that comes along. There’s a new issue every week.”
On Friday, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) signed a strict Medicaid work requirement passed by the state’s GOP-controlled legislature. Under the new law, Michigan will join the dozen states who are actively seeking or have already received a waiver from the Trump administration to implement the new rules — which are expected to drop hundreds of thousands of people from the Medicaid rolls.
Michigan’s bill was significantly rewritten after the first version came under fire for having a significant racially disparate impact. Under the original proposal, people living in counties with unemployment rates above 8.5 percent would have been exempt from the work requirement. Those counties were overwhelmingly white, rural, and Republican. Low-income residents of color in Detroit and Flint, where the joblessness and poverty are extremely high, would not have received an exemption, because the wealthier suburbs surrounding those cities pulled the overall county unemployment rate below the threshold.
The blowback to that plan prompted Michigan lawmakers to make revisions, including the elimination of any exemptions for people in places where it is difficult to find a job.
“They can avoid the disparate impact by leveling up or leveling down, and they chose to level down,” Nicholas Bagley, a law professor at the University of Michigan who specializes in health policy, told TPM. “They could have chosen to extend the same solicitude they had for people in rural areas with high unemployment to people in cities with high unemployment, but did not do so. I think it speaks to how punitive this law will be for many people. You’re telling people to find work where there is no work to be had.”
The revised law requires adult Medicaid enrollees who do not have a disability to work at least 20 hours per week in order to maintain their insurance. If they cannot find a job, they can complete community service to fulfill the requirement, but only for three months each year.
More than half a million people in Michigan would be subject to the new requirements, and as many as 54,000 people could lose their coverage as a result.
And if the Trump administration were to deny Michigan’s request for a waiver to implement the work requirement, or if a court were to strike them down as illegal under the Medicaid statute, the state is threatening to roll back their Medicaid expansion.
Could Trump-fueled infighting cost New York City Republicans their only seat in Congress?
That’s the question looming over Tuesday’s bloody, hard-fought GOP primary race between incumbent Rep. Dan Donovan (R-NY) and his predecessor, convicted felon and former Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY).
Grimm held the NY-11 district seat until 2015, when he was imprisoned for federal tax fraud. Donovan sailed in with a special election victory to save face for the party. Now Grimm wants the seat back.
Donovan, the former Staten Island district attorney, is the establishment pick, scoring endorsements from most of the Empire State’s GOP old guard, the National Republican Congressional Committee, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R), and, most critically, President Trump. But Grimm remains popular in the heavily ethnic white, GOP-leaning district that takes in all of Staten Island and a stretch of south Brooklyn. And in spite of Trump’s endorsement of Donovan, Grimm has campaigned hard as the true Trumpian candidate.
Thanks to Grimm’s surprisingly strong standing with a chunk of the district’s Republicans, the state’s arcane election laws and the race’s uncertain Trump factor, Grimm has a good shot at pulling the whole thing off. But New York Republicans fear that his significant baggage could imperil their hold on a seat that Donovan should be able to win in the fall.
“If Dan Donovan wins the primary, he keeps his job,” New York GOP strategist Susan del Percio told TPM.
“If Grimm wins, it’ll be a tough fight and yes, the Republicans can lose that seat,” del Percio, who worked for Grimm in his 2010 primary campaign and never worked with Donovan, continued. “You have a vulnerable, deeply flawed candidate who is a convicted felon. That’s something you can raise a lot of money against and really go after to increase turnout this election cycle.”
Another New York Republican consultant, who asked to remain anonymous because of his ties to both GOP candidates, said Democratic frontrunner Max Rose “has a chance” in the general, especially because Trump’s endorsement for Donovan came so late in the race.
“If Donovan loses, it signals Trump can’t boost support for the only Republican in his entire home city of New York” the consultant said.
After all, the conservative firebrand was best remembered for two events: his on-camera threat to break a NY1 reporter in half “like a boy,” and his 2014 felony criminal trial for fraud, tax evasion and perjury.
Donovan’s camp shrugged the challenge off, pointing to Grimm’s less-than-hard-right voting record in Congress and criminal record. They set about securing mainstream endorsements and raising funds.
Grimm, meanwhile, hit the campaign trail hard, turning out for parades, knocking on doors and snapping photos with white-haired grandmothers. He brought Trump allies including Michael Caputo and Anthony Scaramucci into the fold, and gave frequent press interviews casting himself as the strongest champion of the #MAGA agenda.
“Donovan I think was overconfident for a long, long time,” Gerry O’Brien, a 40-year veteran of New York GOP politics who left the party during the 2016 election, told TPM.
O’Brien said the Donovan campaign made a “strategic blunder” by telegraphing their central attack on Grimm’s voting record months before the election, when “regular voters were paying less than zero attention.”
All the strategists TPM spoke to voiced similar concerns: Donovan was a lackluster retail campaigner while Grimm excelled at it; Donovan squandered his financial advantage on dull direct mail buys; Donovan didn’t take Grimm seriously until late in the race.
The national GOP has been worried about the race for some time. The NRCC added Donovan to their “Primary Patriots” program, providing additional fundraising and organizing assistance. While the NY1 poll was still being conducted, the president came out with a two-tweet endorsement for the incumbent warning what might happen if Grimm wins the nomination.
“Remember Alabama,” Trump implored, citing the disastrous campaign of far-right Senate candidate Roy Moore, who lost to Democrat Doug Jones following allegations that Moore once groped multiple teenage girls.
The Grimm campaign claims Trump was hoodwinked into supporting Donovan, noting that his first tweet claimed the congressman supported the tax cut bill that Donovan actually voted against.
“Donovan has abandoned a district that voted overwhelmingly for Trump,” Ryan Girdusky, a strategist providing support to Grimm’s primary campaign, told TPM. “Michael Grimm will be their advocate in Congress.”
Grimm has made his own mistakes. One notable misstep involved New York’s arcane election rules, which allow candidates to file signatures with the Board of Elections to appear on multiple party ballot lines. A Grimm campaign operative messed with the signatures Donovan’s team submitted, trying to keep him off the Reform Party ballot.
But he was caught, and the BOE not only kept Donovan on the Reform Party line but referred the incident to the U.S. Attorney’s office.
There were other allegations of dirty tricks. Donovan accused Grimm of filing an ethics complaint against him, claiming that Donovan helped his partner’s son secure preferential treatment after a 2015 heroin arrest. (Grimm denies making the complaint, while Donovan denies intervening).
At a primary debate last week, Grimm charged that Donovan even sought to secure a presidential pardon on his behalf in order to keep him out of the primary race. Donovan acknowledged discussing the prospect of a pardon while riding on Air Force One with Trump last summer, but said he only did so as a favor to a longtime friend in Staten Island politics who’s now backing Grimm, former Rep. Guy Molinari (R-NY).
Donovan’s team counters that this is just another bogus accusation made by a campaign thrown into disarray by Trump’s endorsement, which upended the dynamics of the race.
“Grimm’s entire campaign was built around President Trump, who urged voters not to vote for him and said literally no one is better to represent him than Donovan,” Donovan spokeswoman Jessica Proud scoffed on a call with TPM.
With the primary just days away, Grimm is continuing to make Donovan’s electability argument for him.
Grimm caught flak in the conservative New York Post this week for downplaying an audio recording of distraught immigrant children separated from their parents by the Trump administration. Grimm told reporters, “You’re going to hear the same exact things as a mother leaves to go to work and has to leave her child at day care.”
The GOP strategist who requested anonymity said Grimm was “basically writing a Democratic campaign ad” with his comments.”
Rose, the leading Democratic candidate and a decorated U.S. Army veteran, has pulled in hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations and scored endorsements from the likes of the DCCC, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and the Service Employees International Union.
Kevin Elkins, Rose’s campaign manager, told TPM they’re “feeling pretty confident” about the race regardless of their opponent, but said they’d prefer to face off against Grimm because they would relish defeating him “once and for all.”
As Elkins pointed out, the peculiarities of New York’s ballot system means “this could go thirty different ways.”
Candidates are permitted to remain on multiple party lines even after losing a major-party primary. So either Grimm or Donovan could lose the Republican primary and stay on the November ballot on a minority-party line, peeling votes away from their rival.
O’Brien, the former GOP strategist, predicted Tuesday’s results will be closer than polls have shown, citing Trump’s support and Donovan’s last-minute assault of TV advertising.
“Whether that’s enough, I don’t know,” he said. “The Republican Party has jumped off the cliff in a very enthusiastic display of suicide over the last year or two. It would not be uncharacteristic for them to have gone all in on this and still throw another congressional seat away.”
House Republican leaders decided to delay a vote on their immigration bill in the face of near-certain defeat, kicking the can down the road one more day as the chamber failed to pass a more conservative alternative to the bill Thursday afternoon.
The conservative bill, authored by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), mustered just 193 votes. All Democrats and dozens of Republicans rejected it because of its onerous limits on allowing undocumented immigrants brought here as children to stay in the country.
The other, slightly less conservative version appears destined to a similar fate, with dozens of hardline conservatives and a handful of GOP moderates saying they’ll vote against the bill, thus promising its failure. But House GOP leaders moved to forestall that result, scuttling a planned Thursday afternoon vote as they cast about for another path forward.
That’s easier said than done. Republicans have failed to coalesce around immigration reform for more than a decade, and haven’t been able to agree on a solution even on broadly popular concepts like the one these bills were aimed at addressing — giving the undocumented immigrants brought here as children legal standing after President Trump’s move to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The two different bills also sought to handle another Trump-manufactured crisis: The forced separation of migrant families at the border.
The GOP’s failure to address the issue stems partly from Trump’s erratic and bellicose behavior on immigration, as well as his unpredictable and inconsistent support of congressional Republicans’ attempts to clean up the mess he made. It’s also been stymied by conservative Freedom Caucus members’ refusal to compromise and support legislation, even on a so-called compromise bill that they were intimately involved in crafting that closely tracks with Trump’s own demands on immigration policy. House moderates have also failed to get the votes needed to join Democrats to force a clean vote on the DREAM Act.
Rather than admit defeat, House GOP leaders bought themselves one more day on Thursday. But they have no plans to change the current bill. Instead, they take the afternoon to have a meeting on the new slapdash bill they tossed together this week and discuss its contents with members. Yet it’s still unlikely that Friday’s results will be any prettier for House GOP leaders — or the swing-district members who desperately wanted to solve the issue ahead of what’s shaping up to be a rough midterm election for the GOP.
Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC), the chairman of the conservative but less doctrinaire Republican Study Committee and one of the bill’s negotiators, said the delay was so Republicans could have a meeting “to walk through some of the two or three sticking points” on the bill. Walker said Republicans are also holding out hope that Trump will “continue to, or even add to his voice on support” of the bill despite the President’s lukewarm and inconsistent support of the compromise legislation.
But conservative hardliners made it clear that delay and more talk won’t get them to budge.
“It’s amnesty. It doesn’t protect the American worker. Chain migration is still in it,” Rep. Lou Barletta (R-PA) groused after the Goodlatte bill failed.