In it, but not of it. TPM DC

Dave Matthews apparently has so much to say about Ohio politics.

The ’90s rockstar will crash into Cleveland to help fellow throwback Dennis Kucinich with a campaign fundraiser later this month, Kucinich’s gubernatorial campaign announced Friday.

The event will take place on April 20 – a fitting date for a candidate who has campaigned for full marijuana legalization and a veteran of the jam band circuit.

The activist musician and left-wing candidate first connected more than a decade ago at Farm Aid, Kucinich’s campaign said, and have teamed up on a number of liberal causes since.

Kucinich is looking to topple former Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray, the establishment Democratic favorite, in next month’s primary – a prospect that has many Democrats in the state worried could happen and hurt their chances at winning the general election. But Matthews, for one, hopes Democrats don’t drink the Cordray water.

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EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt reassigned or demoted at least five high-ranking officials who questioned his spending and other leadership decisions — including the purchase of pricey office furniture and Pruitt’s desire to use sirens to cut through D.C. traffic — according to a New York Times report Thursday afternoon. Four of the officials were career staff and one was a political appointee.

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During a discussion between Sen. Dick Durbin’s (D-IL) office and Sinclair Broadcasting Group staff in November 2017 about the company’s proposed merger with Tribune Media, Sinclair staff indicated that the company does not dictate the words or content that local reporters deliver, a Durbin spokesperson told TPM Wednesday.

But, evidenced by the viral, infamous compilation of videos showing dozens of Sinclair-owned stations’ reporters repeating a scripted denunciation of “fake” and “one-sided” reporting, Durbin has asked the company’s executives to clarify its policy on the “must-run” promotional segments.

In a letter to Sinclair Executive Chairman David Smith Wednesday, Durbin called the recent scripted promotions a continuation of the company’s “troubling history” of “dictating content to its stations.” He also questioned why Sinclair staff misrepresented its policy at the November meeting, in which Durbin discussed his concerns about the merger, spokesperson Ben Marter confirmed to TPM.

In response to concerns raised by my staff about the consequences of Sinclair-mandated programming on local reporting, Sinclair representatives repeatedly represented that Sinclair does not dictate the words or content local reporters deliver and that any national content distributed on Sinclair-owned stations is delivered by an identified national correspondent,” Durbin said in the letter. “The requirement that local news anchors deliver a scripted promotional message on-air is inconsistent with those representations.

He also called reports that there were “contractural penalties” for news stations and employees who refused to run the mandatory content “further troubling.”

Please confirm what Sinclair’s policy is regarding Sinclair-produced mandated content for local news anchors. Further, please clarify whether there will be employment consequences for personnel at local stations who refuse to deliver the scripted promotional message,” he wrote.

While Marter said the Sinclair-Tribune merger and Durbin’s concerns over Sinclair’s mandated promotion content were “separate issues,” he said the senator’s main concerns about the merger stem from the issue of independence for local media and the journalistic integrity of those local news stations.

Sinclair currently owns more television stations than any other broadcaster in the U.S. and if the merger is allowed, Sinclair’s reach would extend to 72 percent of American households.

Currently, both the Department of Justice and the Federal Communications Commission are separately reviewing the $3.9 billion deal to determine if its in the public’s interest. Under FCC rules, a single company is limited to owning stations that reach no more than 39 percent of households, The New York Times reported in February.

Sinclair spokesperson Scott Livingston did not immediately respond to TPM’s request for comment.

Read the letter Durbin sent to Sinclair below:

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Dating back to his mid-1990s reign in the House of Representatives, and continuing through his failed presidential runs and unsuccessful audition to be Donald Trump’s vice president, Newt Gingrich has led a crusade for rolling back protections for federal workers and eliminating entire agencies. Today, he is pushing from the outside for that same agenda — both as a contributor to Fox News, the President’s favorite source of information, and in private communications with the administration urging officials to conduct a “cleaning” and fire career civil servants suspected of disloyalty.

Whistleblowers report that retaliation against nonpartisan federal workers is on the rise under the Trump administration, with career staffers being pushed out of many different government agencies. As investigations into these purges heat up, and as efforts on Capitol Hill to pass bills making it easier to fire career civil servants intensify, Gingrich is emerging as a key player to watch in the months to come.

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Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) hauled in a whopping $6.7 million in the last three months for his bid to unseat Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), O’Rourke’s campaign announced Tuesday,

That sum dwarfs his already-impressive earlier fundraising quarters, and puts him in a position to be able to go t0e-to-toe with Cruz financially in the expensive state, even if outside Democratic groups decide to spend elsewhere this fall.

And, as O’Rourke was quick to point out, it came in spite of his refusal to take any political action committee or lobbyist donations.

“Campaigning in a grassroots fashion while raising more than $6.7 million from 141,000 contributions, we are the story of a campaign powered by people who are standing up to special interests, proving that we are more than a match and making it clear that Texans are willing to do exactly what our state and country need of us at this critical time,” he said in a statement.

O’Rourke didn’t announce his cash on hand figures, and Cruz has yet to put out his quarterly numbers, which are due in a few weeks.

O’Rourke’s latest haul eclipses an already-impressive $2.4 million he raised in the final months of 2017, when he out-raised Cruz, and came during the ramp-up to Texas’s March primary.

Those primary numbers indicated O’Rourke and other Democrats may not be as ready to compete statewide in Texas as they’d hoped – roughly twice as many voters turned out to vote for Cruz in his noncompetitive primary race as for O’Rourke, who won less than two thirds of the Democratic primary vote against a pair of no-name challengers.

That was a sign to some national Democrats that Texas still may not be a fruitful place to compete, in spite of polling showing that President Trump is unpopular in the state and suggesting Cruz could be in trouble. But if O’Rourke keeps raising money like this it won’t matter what they think – he’ll have plenty of cash to keep Cruz looking over his shoulder for the rest of the year, even if his chances of actually winning don’t match the sky-high donor enthusiasm around his campaign.

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Former Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) has seized on gun control to propel his underdog gubernatorial campaign, worrying state Democrats that he has a real chance to win the primary — and damage his party’s chances in a key race.

Kucinich, a former presidential gadfly candidate who’s been one of Russia’s more prominent left-wing apologists in recent years, is giving a spirited challenge to former Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray (D), the candidate strongly preferred by most party leaders.

Kucinich has put Cordray on the defensive for his past “A” rating from the National Rifle Association and ongoing refusal to support an assault weapons ban.

While establishment Democrats think Cordray will likely prevail, they say not to count out Kucinich, who’s been running and often winning elections in the state’s biggest media market for more than four decades.

“There’s absolutely a chance Kucinich could win this,” state Rep. John Boccieri (D), a former congressman who served with Kucinich, told TPM.

Others agree, warning that Kucinich’s decades-long pugilistic battle against “the mighty and powerful” dating back to his rocky tenure as Cleveland’s boy mayor in the late ’70s closely reflects the current populist anti-establishment mood of the Democratic base in the state, and that the gun issue could help further propel his uphill campaign in the wake of the Parkland shooting.

“It’s a mistake to take Dennis Kucinich lightly,” said former Rep. Dennis Eckart (D-OH). “At the end of the day because of the perfect match of Cordray’s message, his resume and his money it’s his to lose. But Dennis is going to surprise some people in a significant way because of the mood of some Ohio Democrats. He can’t be as easily dismissed now as he has in the past.”

Cordray remains the odds-on favorite: He’s got the money, support from most of the party as well as the powerful AFL-CIO, a strong resume on economic populism and taking on Wall Street both in Ohio and Washington, and support from party heavy-hitters like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and former Obama administration adviser Valerie Jarrett. That’ll help him as he reintroduces himself across a state where he hasn’t been on the ballot in eight years and lets voters know about some of Kucinich’s more outlandish statements and actions since he left office after losing a gerrymandering-fueled primary to Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) in 2012. Cordray is raising huge sums for the race, and is expected to have a significant edge in TV advertising and a robust field operation as the campaign kicks into high gear in the coming days.

But recent public and private polling has found a toss-up race, with a high number of undecided voters. The election is just over a month away, on May 8, with early voting beginning in one week.

Ohio Democrats say a Kucinich win is unlikely – but concerning in a race they see as a top pickup opportunity this fall.

Kucinich has enough of a record and enough eccentricities that nominating him would be a gift to [GOP front-runner] Mike DeWine. Republicans are giddy about that prospect,” said one top Democrat in the state.

Kucinich is buoyed by high name ID in his home region around Cleveland, the largest media market in the state for Democratic primary voters, and progressives’ fond if hazy memories of his early and vocal stances for universal health care and against the war in Iraq. He has the support of the Bernie Sanders-aligned Our Revolution, headed by former Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner (D). Cordray has some strong assets, including his fights for consumers both as state attorney general and treasurer and in the Obama administration, but remains largely undefined in a state where he hasn’t been on the ballot for eight years, when he lost reelection for state attorney general to DeWine.

<<enter caption here>> on March 7, 2016 in Washington, DC.
President Barack Obama speaks alongside Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray listen during a meeting with financial regulators at the Roosevelt Room of the White House March 7, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

On the one issue that’s been dominating the national and local Democratic conversation at the moment – gun control –  Corday’s in a tough spot.

Cordray had a warm relationship with Ohio gun groups during his stint as the state’s attorney general, earning an “A” rating from the NRA and getting the endorsement of the Buckeye Firearms Association in his last two elections. Cordray successfully fought for Ohio’s right to overturn local gun control measures passed in Cleveland and Columbus, calling it “an important victory for every gun owner in Ohio.” He was one of just a handful of Democratic attorneys general to join Republicans in McDonald v. Chicago, a landmark Supreme Court case that expanded gun rights by finding the Second Amendment also applied to state and local governments. He also fought to help a local gun group hold an armed protest outside the state capitol.

In the wake of the mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, earlier this year and the subsequent renewal of national focus on gun control, Kucinich saw an opening.

“Parkland has changed everything. It really has brought about a shift in public awareness about the omnipresent danger of assault weapons,” Kucinich told TPM. “If you want to carry the Democratic banner in a statewide election, that banner should not have an ‘A’ from NRA on it.”

Cordray has moved dramatically on gun control in this campaign: He’s now calling for universal background checks and a ban on high-capacity magazines and bump stocks. But he hasn’t been willing to call for an assault weapons ban, something Kucinich has hammered him for.

And Cordray’s own running mate hasn’t helped: Former Rep. Betty Sutton (D-OH), publicly broke with him over the issue last week.

“He created an opening for Kucinich because of where he is on the hot-button issue for Democrats right now: gun violence,” said one Ohio Democratic strategist who wants to see Cordray prevail in the race. “Rich doesn’t have much name ID. He hasn’t run statewide since 2010 and even then it was down-ticket. And this gun stuff is hurting him. Democrats are frustrated with him on it.”

Cordray’s campaign fired back against Kucinich, accusing him of playing politics with the issue.

“Democrats should come together to find workable solutions to a problem as important as this — not turn it into a political football. It’s telling that Kucinich spent five years as a paid contributor on Fox News and didn’t once call for an assault weapons ban, and at one point even told Bill O’Reilly that gun control measures wouldn’t reduce violence,” Cordray campaign spokesman Mike Gwin said in a statement.

Kucinich told O’Reilly after the Sandy Hook massacre that Obama should put forth gun control proposals and Congress should “consider” them, but said that “All the gun laws you pass may not really reduce significantly the level of violence in our society.”

But those comments aren’t likely to be nearly as damning as some of his other remarks made on Fox and elsewhere over the past few years praising President Trump and dismissing any possibility of collusion between Trump and Russia during the 2016 election.

Kucinich called Trump’s inauguration speech “great” and a “message of unity,” and has been much less critical of Trump than most other Democrats – or than he’d been of President Obama, who he accused of committing a potentially “impeachable offense” for bombing Libya without congressional approval in 2011. He later called for a primary challenger against Obama in 2012.

He’s also repeatedly dismissed the Russia investigation.

“Enough of the BS about #Russia stealing the election. This is CIA & State Dept propaganda trying to legitimatize their increased hostilities towards Russia,” he wrote in a December 2016 Facebook post.

Kucinich hasn’t backed away from that view, accusing the “military-industrial intel axis” of unfairly targeting then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn to damage the U.S.-Russia relationship, claiming the “deep state” is after the president, and calling Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Russian-American diplomat a “bunch of nothing.”

He repeatedly refused to tell TPM whether he thought the Russian government meddled in the 2016 election.

“The people I’ve talked to across Ohio, they’re more worried about Moscow, Ohio than Moscow, Russia,” he said dismissively.

Kucinich dodged one follow-up question: “We shouldn’t be meddling in any country’s elections and no country should be meddling in ours.”

When pressed further, he said he thought Russian citizens may have meddled, but refused to accept the widely held view of the U.S. intelligence community that the Russian government was behind attacks on the Democratic Party and American democracy.

“Um, did Russians, Russians, people of Russian nationality, attempt to meddle? That appears to be the case. Beyond that, the investigation is continuing. If I was working on this on a daily basis in Washington I’d probably be able to give you a better assessment. But I will say it’s not an issue in this election, and the Cordray campaign’s attempt to make this an issue just shows how stupidly out of touch they are,” he said.

That fits in with Kucinich’s overarching views for the past decade. A co-founder of the Congressional Russia Caucus, which sought closer relations with the country, Kucinich forcefully defended Russia’s 2013 invasion of Crimea and meddling in eastern Ukraine in a series of interviews with Fox News and Russian state media outlet Sputnik, while blaming American and NATO meddling in the country for the situation. He’s also repeatedly met with and defended Russia-backed Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad.

Cordray’s allies made it clear that he’ll go after Kucinich’s strange defense of Russia and Trump — with paid media, if necessary.

The fact that he’s so closely associated with Fox News, has praised Donald Trump, that’s a problem for him in the Democratic Primary. The closer he’d get to being a serious threat, the more those things will become aware to more people,” Ohio state Rep. David Leland (D), a former state party chairman who supports Cordray, told TPM. “If it becomes something that needs to be talked about, I guarantee it will be.”

But Ohio Democrats say Kucinich shouldn’t be dismissed. And most say he’d be a disaster as the party’s standard-bearer.

Everyone on the ticket would be concerned about Dennis as the nominee. He’d be a very problematic candidate,” said one unaligned Ohio Democrat. People in Ohio, like other parts of the country, are feeling pretty good about our prospects for this November. But every candidate who’s been working for a year-plus to win this fall would be concerned Kucinich could risk all of that.”

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Rep. Elizabeth Esty (D-CT) announced Monday that she won’t run for reelection, bowing to pressure to vacate the seat after badly mishandling a case of sexual harassment, domestic assault and threats between two senior staffers in her congressional office.

“I have determined that it is in the best interest of my constituents and my family to end my time in Congress at the end of this year and not seek re-election,” she said in a Facebook post. “Too many women have been harmed by harassment in the workplace. In the terrible situation in my office, I could have and should have done better. To the survivor, I want to express my strongest apology for letting you down.”

From being a room parent in a first grade classroom to serving on the library board, town council, state house and U.S….

Posted by Elizabeth Esty on Monday, April 2, 2018

Esty’s decision against running for reelection caps a rapid fall from grace for a woman who’d been viewed as a rising star within the House Democratic Caucus, who had a good relationship with House Democratic leaders and was a top voice for increased gun control as the representative of Newtown.

But that career came crashing down in recent days after revelations that she’d coddled her former chief of staff when another senior staffer accused him of sexual harassment, domestic violence and threats. A senior staffer accused her chief of staff of punching her and sexually harassing her, as well as leaving threatening voicemails that included one where he threatened to kill her if she didn’t call him back. Esty’s response was to keep him on the payroll for three whole months, giving him $5,000 in severance and helping him land another job at a gun control group.

The pressure has been building on Esty to resign since the story became public last week, with her hometown paper calling for her to step down over the weekend.

Esty’s decision to retire likely makes the seat easier to hold for Democrats. President Trump only lost her fairly blue-collar northwestern Connecticut district by 4 points, and she had two close elections in 2012 and 2014. An open-seat election in this district isn’t a lock for Democrats, but Esty insisted on running again the party might have seriously worried about holding the seat even in a year that’s shaping up to be a good one for the party.

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A full third of the senior Interior Department (DOI) career officials reassigned under Secretary Ryan Zinke in a major agency reshuffling are Native American, even though Native Americans make up less than 10 percent of the Department’s workforce, a review by TPM has found.

The finding comes days after Democratic lawmakers demanded an investigation into whether Zinke discriminated when he reassigned 33 career officials last summer, and follows on reports that Zinke has repeatedly told DOI officials he doesn’t care about diversity — which prompted one member of Congress to accuse Zinke of working to create a “lily-white department.”

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A Census Bureau advisory body criticized the Trump administration’s move to add a citizenship question to the upcoming decennial survey.

We have concerns about the lack of adequate testing, about the implications for nonresponse (unit and item), implications for the cost, and implications for the attitudes about the Census Bureau and concerns about confidentiality,” the Census Scientific Advisory Committee said, in a statement that was drafted during a meeting held at Census headquarters Thursday and Friday.

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Senior Democrats are demanding that Congress’s investigative arm probe whether Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s mass reassignment of senior career civil servants last summer violated federal anti-discrimination laws.

In a letter sent Wednesday to the Government Accountability Office, obtained early by TPM, a group of Senate and House Democrats say they’re concerned that the controversial reassignments — already the subject of multiple investigations — are disproportionately affecting employees who “belong to a protected class.”

It’s illegal to make federal personnel decisions based on race, gender, age, religion, or disability. 

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