Senate Republican leaders are only giving the chamber Wednesday and Thursday to pass an immigration bill that would help the 700,000 young immigrants known as Dreamers whose protections President Trump terminated last year. As lawmakers scramble to whip votes on a growing pile of competing proposals and are frantically negotiating behind closed doors, the White House has once again thrown a wrench into the process.
In a statement Wednesday morning, President Trump suggested, as he did two weeks ago, that he would veto any plan other than a GOP-sponsored bill based on his own list of demands, including controversial provisions slashing legal immigration.
“I am asking all senators, in both parties, to support the Grassley bill and to oppose any legislation that fails to fulfill these four pillars – that includes opposing any short-term ‘Band-Aid’ approach,” he said, referring to discussions in Congress about a one-year punt should all other options fail to pass.
Democrats won another hotly contested statehouse seat on Tuesday night, capturing a district on Florida’s Gulf Coast for their 36th state legislative seat flip of the Trump era.
Democrat Margaret Good defeated James Buchanan, the son of wealthy Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-FL), by a seven-point margin in a suburban Sarasota-based district President Trump carried by almost five points.
The win is the latest for Democrats, who’ve captured Trump-leaning territory across the country, from Wisconsin to New Hampshire to Missouri to Virginia to Washington. And the 12-point shift towards Democrats in this contest is right in line with the average shift that’s occurred in statehouse races across the country towards Democrats since the 2016 elections.
Democrats took another victory lap.
“Representative-elect Margaret Good’s campaign was dedicated to the people of Sarasota County who are tired of Florida Republicans peddling a Trump agenda counter to their values,” Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee head Jessica Good said in a statement.
These wins show how committed Democrats are to turning out against Trump right now across the country, a factor that’s unlikely to change before this November’s midterm elections and a sign that at least one of the factors for a large wave election is firmly in place. And while this suburban seat isn’t as deep red as some others — a Democrat won it in 2006 and President Obama nearly won the county in 2008 — it’s a sign that Democrats can expand the map to areas they haven’t been able to compete in since those wave elections.
This race was highly targeted by both parties, with heavy spending on both sides, an endorsement from Vice President Biden and a visit from former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski in the election’s closing days.
Special elections make it easier for the more fired-up party to pull off huge upsets, and more Republican voters are likely to turn up for this fall’s midterms, making these races an imperfect stand-in of what the future will look like. But most real elections from the past year — as well as big gubernatorial wins in Virginia and New Jersey and Democrats’ shocking win in an Alabama Senate race — suggest Democrats are set up to win big next fall.
As of late Tuesday afternoon, the Senate had yet to even begin a long-awaited debate on immigration. Hanging in the balance are the lives of 700,000 young DACA recipients who will soon lose their work permits and protection from deportation.
What lawmakers originally expected to be a robust, freewheeling, open debate on the half-dozen-plus competing proposals on the table is currently at a standstill, held up by partisan disagreements about which policy to vote on first.
When the Senate voted Monday night to open the floor up to consider proposals to protect 700,000 DACA recipients at risk of losing their legal protections, Democratic senators gushed that they were finally going to have the freewheeling debate they had long craved. Many on both sides assumed the contentious, complicated issue could drag out for weeks.
“I’ve been here seven years and never seen anything like it,” Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) marveled to TPM Monday night. “Who knows? Democracy may very well break out in here.”
That excitement quickly turned to frustration as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) confirmed Tuesday morning that he wants the entire debate — on the half-dozen-plus competing proposals put forward so far by lawmakers — to be over by the end of the week.
Every Senator save Ted Cruz (R-TX) voted Monday night to begin debate on the fate of 700,000 young immigrants soon-to-be stripped of their legal protections by the Trump administration, but what Congress will be able to pass, if anything, remains a mystery.
After March 5, unless Congress can pass a bill or a federal court intervenes, more than 1,000 DACA recipients per day will begin to lose their work permits and be at risk of deportation.
“People’s lives are hanging in the balance, and I’m not being dramatic,” a somber Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) told reporters. “Whether they can stay in school, whether they can keep their jobs, whether they’ll be separated from their families—these are as gut-wrenching as decisions in life as anyone might face, and I just don’t know if we’ll have 60 votes.”
Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-MT) almost blew his last election by choke-slamming a reporter for daring to ask him questions, then lying about how the assault happened. But in his mind (or at least his latest fundraising email), he’s still the victim.
Gianforte’s campaign sent out an email asking for money on Monday that included a claim that he’d not only had to beat beat his Democratic opponent but the “leftist media” in his special election last year.
“We were able to win a tough, close victory against the Democrats and the leftist media in the most expensive Congressional contest in Montana history,” reads the fundraising letter, signed by Gianforte.
That’s an interesting turn of phrase for Gianforte, who won his race last year even after tackling Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs, breaking his glasses in the process, after Jacobs pressed him on his stance on the GOP’s Obamacare repeal plan.
He compounded that attack by lying about what happened, a story he later had to walk back. After pleading guilty to the attack he promised Jacobs an in-person meeting, which he’s since refused to hold unless Jacobs agrees that it’s off-the-record.
Gianforte’s six-point victory last summer came partly because much of Montana’s vote had already been cast via early voting when he attacked Jacobs. Democrats think they have an outside shot at defeating him in the Republican-leaning state.
Gianforte’s team didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
A sweeping $400 billion budget passed both chambers of Congress in the wee hours of Friday morning with a mix of Democratic and Republican votes, leaving those anxious to protect roughly 700,000 young immigrants without a way to force a vote to restore the legal protections President Trump revoked last year.
The papers of many people in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program will expire on March 5, and the short-term budget blows past that deadline, funding the government until March 23 and raising the debt ceiling until mid-2019. If Congress fails to agree on a permanent solution for DACA recipients in the next few weeks—or even a short-term punt many lawmakers see as a “Plan Z”—young immigrants who have grown up in the United States and registered with the government could be deported later this year.
Since Rob Porter’s resignation as White House staff secretary on Wednesday, it’s become clear that key officials in the administration knew about the domestic abuse allegations levied against him by his two ex-wives before Porter was forced to resign.
It’s not entirely clear how many aides in the White House knew that Porter’s two ex-wives, Colbie Holderness and Jennie Willoughby, accused Porter of physical abuse and violent behavior, but several aides had at least some idea that Porter faced damaging abuse allegations by late last year — including White House Counsel Don McGahn and chief of staff John Kelly.
Despite this, the White House projected an image of ignorance in its early reaction to the allegations made public on Tuesday. When the Daily Mail published its first account of the ex-wives’ allegations on Tuesday, White House officials issued statements of support for Porter. As subsequent reports surfaced with more details about the allegations, however, Porter’s departure from the White House became a more urgent matter.
In an interview with the Intercept published Wednesday, Holderness said that Porter once punched her in the eye on a vacation to Italy in 2005. Prior to that incident, Porter had allegedly thrown her onto the bed, rubbed his elbow or knee onto her, or started to choke her, Holderness said, and gave the Intercept photos of herself with a black eye that she said Porter gave her during the 2005 incident.
Porter’s second wife, Willoughby, told the Daily Mail on Tuesday that Porter once dragged her from the shower during an argument. She also revealed that she filed a protective order against Porter in 2010 after he allegedly punched through the glass door to her apartment.
Porter has denied all the allegations against him. According to the Washington Post, he has told friends that Holderness got the black eye in 2005 when the two were arguing over a vase and the vase hit her in the face somehow.
White House officials now say that they feel misled by Porter’s characterization of his relationships with his ex-wives, as the administration works to mop up the mess surrounding Porter’s departure.
Here’s a timeline detailing who at the White House knew what, when they knew it, and what they did about revelations regarding Porter’s relationships with his ex-wives:
Porter, a former senior staffer for Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), joined the White House early in the Trump administration. As staff secretary, he controlled the flow of papers to Trump’s desk and became an increasingly crucial member of the White House staff.
White House Counsel Don McGahn learned in January 2017 that Porter’s ex-wives were going to make damaging accusations against him, but he did not know specifics about the allegations at the time, according to the Washington Post. Porter delivered this information to McGahn, telling him it would come up in the background check for his security clearance, according to CBS News. A White House official told the Washington Post that McGahn did not ask Porter for more details about the accusations because Porter said they were false.
The FBI interviewed both of Porter’s ex-wives in January 2017, according to their accounts. Both told the Intercept that they detailed their accounts of Porter’s behavior in their relationship to the FBI at the time. Porter’s first wife, Colbie Holderness, said that she provided the FBI a photo of a black eye she says Porter gave her, and his second wife, Jennie Willoughby, gave the FBI access to a protective order against Porter she obtained in 2010, according to the Washington Post.
FBI Director Christopher Wray on Tuesday testified that the bureau “submitted a partial report” to the White House on the investigation into Porter’s background and the allegations against him in March 2017.
On April 24, 2017, Porter’s second wife, Jennie Willoughby, wrote an Instagram post alleging that her ex-husband was abusive to her, though she did not name Porter in the post. Willoughby told CNN that Porter asked her several times over the past year to take the post down.
The FBI sent a preliminary file on Porter, including the allegations of domestic abuse from his ex-wives, to the White House, according to CBS News. McGahn himself did not see the file at that time, according to CBS and the Washington Post. Another lawyer in the White House may have reviewed the file in June, per CBS.
According to Wray, the FBI submitted a “completed background investigation” on Porter to the White House in July 2017.
His testimony appears to contradict the White House’s claims — via spokesperson Raj Shah — that the FBI background check into Porter “was still in the investigative process” and “had not been completed yet” at the time of Porter’s resignation.
Porter told McGahn that he had been interviewed by the FBI a second time in September, according to CBS News. His ex-wives also both spoke to the FBI for a second time in September, per the Washington Post.
Willoughby told the Washington Post that she received a call from Porter on Sept. 21, asking her if she had used the word “violent” to describe his behavior in the relationship. He also complained that he had yet to obtain his security clearance. Willoughby alerted the FBI the next day that Porter had called her, per the Washington Post.
In the same month, McGahn learned that Porter’s security clearance was delayed by accusations of domestic violence, according to the Washington Post. It’s not clear whether McGahn learned this from Porter himself or another source, and it’s not clear what kind of details about the accusations McGahn knew at the time.
The accounting of White House chief of staff John Kelly’s knowledge about the allegations against Porter are a little fuzzier than McGahn’s. Kelly learned that abuse allegations were holding up Porter’s security clearance last fall, but it’s not clear exactly when he learned this and how much detail he had, according to the Washington Post and CNN. Despite learning this, Kelly elevated Porter’s status in the White House and the aide went on to help draft Trump’s State of the Union address, as CNN pointed out.
At some point after the FBI submitted its completed investigation to the White House, the bureau “received requests for follow-up inquiry,” Wray testified to the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Late November 2017
An ex-girlfriend of Porter’s called McGahn in November to tell him about the abuse allegations from Porter’s ex-wives, according to the Washington Post. McGahn passed the ex-girlfriend’s comments on to other officials in the White House, per the Washington Post. A source told CBS News that this was the first time McGahn learned of the specific accusations, an account in conflict with the Washington Post’s reporting that McGahn knew the nature of the allegations in September.
Wray told the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday that the FBI “administratively closed the file” on Porter’s background investigation in January 2018.
“Earlier this month we received some additional information and we passed that on as well,” he said. (It was not clear what information Wray was describing.)
Kelly learned “several weeks ago” that Porter had been denied a full security clearance because of the 2010 protective order, but had yet to act on terminating Porter’s employment, Politico reported Thursday night, citing a senior administration official.
Feb. 1, 2018
The Daily Mail reported that White House communications director Hope Hicks was dating Porter, and that the two were spotted at dinner and “canoodling” in a cab.
Feb. 6, 2018
Less than a week later, on Tuesday, the Daily Mail published its first of several reports on Porter’s history of alleged abuse. Porter’s second wife, Jennifer Willoughby, told the Daily Mail that Porter was abusive toward her during their brief marriage, describing one incident in which Porter allegedly pulled her from the shower by her shoulders.
In the immediate aftermath of the Daily Mail report, White House officials defended Porter’s character and claimed to be shocked by the allegations.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that Porter was “someone of the highest integrity and exemplary character.”
Kelly also defended Porter, and called him “a man of true integrity and honor.”
According to reports by the Washington Post and Axios, Kelly believed Porter’s denials and privately urged him to stay in his job.
Politico reported on Tuesday, however, that Kelly was previously aware of a protective order Willoughby obtained against Porter in 2010. According to an unnamed senior administration official, Kelly considered trying to oust Porter — who could not get a full security clearance because of the protective order — but never did.
Late Feb. 6, 2018
Tuesday night, Ryan Grimm, a reporter for The Intercept, tweeted that he had photos of Porter’s first wife, Colbie Holderness, with a black eye, reporting that Porter physically abused both of his ex-wives.
Senior White House aide Rob Porter physically assaulted two ex-wives, they tell @theintercept. Full story to come in the morning.
His first wife, Colbie Holderness, provided these photos from a vacation they took together in Florence, Italy: pic.twitter.com/tl3TbyGA8Y
On Wednesday, The Intercept and the Daily Mail both published reports with Holderness’ account of abuse from Porter. Holderness claimed that Porter punched her on a vacation in 2005, and said that he hurt her physically in other ways previously, such as by choking her.
After the Intercept published its interview with Holderness, Porter said he would resign, but continued to deny the allegations.
Sanders on Wednesday declined to tell the Daily Mail whether she believed the allegations against Porter, and told reporters that Porter’s resignation was “a personal decision” that Porter “was not pressured to do, but one that he made on his own.”
Sanders also said that Porter would not leave the White House immediately. By Wednesday night, however, a senior White House official told the Washington Post that Porter was expected to leave within 48 hours.
In a new statement Wednesday night, Kelly continued to defend Porter, but claimed he “was shocked by the new allegations.”
“There is no place for domestic violence in our society,” he said. “I stand by my previous comments of the Rob Porter that I have come to know since becoming Chief of Staff, and believe every individual deserves the right to defend their reputation. I accepted his resignation earlier today.”
Two unnamed White House officials told the New York Times that Porter misled Kelly about the severity of the allegations against him, and suggested that his ex-wives were fabricating the abuse claims, an account that other White House aides did not challenge.
Bloomberg News reported on Wednesday, citing four sources familiar with the matter, that other senior White House aides were also aware of the allegations against Porter, although two unnamed officials said that President Donald Trump was not aware.
Feb. 8, 2018
White House spokesperson Raj Shah on Thursday did not deny that top administration officials knew about the allegations against Porter, but claimed Kelly only “became fully aware” of the accusations on Wednesday. Shah declined to clarify what Kelly previously knew, but added, “I think it’s fair to say that we all could have done better over the last few hours — or last few days in dealing with this situation.”
CNN reported on Thursday that White House communications director Hope Hicks helped draft Kelly’s supportive statement. It was not clear whether Hicks — who is romantically involved with Porter, according to several reports — was previously aware of the allegations against him.
On Thursday evening, according to CNN, Kelly embarked upon an apparent damage control strategy and told staff members in an email, “I want you to know that we all take matters of domestic violence seriously.”
Feb. 9, 2018
The Washington Post on Friday reported, citing two unnamed senior officials, that Kelly told senior staffers in a morning meeting to push a flattering account of his response to the allegations against Porter.
According to the Washington Post, Kelly told staff members to communicate that he acted to terminate Porter within 40 minutes of learning that the allegations were credible. That claim would contradict both Kelly’s previous statements of support for Porter and the White House’s insistence that Porter resigned of his own accord.
“He told the staff he took immediate and direct action,” one official told the Washington Post, and said that after the meeting staffers expressed disbelief in Kelly’s latest account.
CNN reported on Friday that Trump, who was not consulted as part of the initial response to the allegations, has grown frustrated with Hicks as a result of her involvement with Porter.
Trump on Friday told reporters of the allegations against Porter, “We found out about it recently, and I was surprised by it, but we certainly wish him well.”
He said it was “obviously” a “tough time” for Porter.
“It was very sad when we heard about it,” Trump said. “He says he’s innocent. I think you have to remember that. He said very strongly yesterday that he’s innocent.”
As reporters were ushered out of the room, he added, “We absolutely wish him well.”
Senate Democrats have crushed their Republican rivals in campaign fundraising once again, the latest sign of a huge enthusiasm advantage as Democrats look to defend a tough map and widen their narrow path to the majority in the 2018 midterms.
Every Senate Democratic incumbent facing a tough reelection this year out-raised their opponent in the last three months of 2017, most by lopsided margins, according to recently filed Senate finance reports.
Nine of the ten Democrats who are up for reelection next year in states President Donald Trump carried raised at least $1 million in fundraising, and more than doubled the total brought in by their top opponent.
Six of those ten Democrats have at least five times as much cash in the bank as their nearest GOP opponent. No Republican running for a Democratic-held seat topped $1 million from donors in the last three months, the normal benchmark for a strong Senate fundraising quarter.
“Our members have a strong amount of support and enthusiasm and that’s reflected in those numbers,” Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) told TPM on Thursday. “All of our members are doing really well.”
Democrats also posted impressive fundraising numbers in the two states where they have the best pickup opportunities. Rep. Jackie Rosen (D-NV) nearly doubled Sen. Dean Heller’s (R-NV) numbers, with a $1.6 million quarter to Heller’s $820,000 (Heller still has $4.2 million in the bank to Rosen’s $1.8 million, however).
Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) posted a similarly impressive $1.6 million, while Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ) raised $1.1 million. Sinema has $5.2 million in the bank to McSally’s $1.8 million — a differential that will likely grow, as McSally faces a tough primary while Sinema has a clear field.
“It’s been better in January than it was in December… the tax bill and actually doing something has been helpful. But there are still some pretty good headwinds there,” Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), whose seat Sinema and McSally are running to fill, told TPM. “A lot of people aren’t happy with the direction of the party.”
Here’s the full fundraising chart:
Based on these tallies, there are signs that the Democratic map may further expand. Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) pulled in a whopping $2.4 million, double Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) $1.2 million. While Cruz maintains a $6.4 million to $4.6 million lead in cash on hand, O’Rourke’s continued impressive numbers suggest he’ll have the money to compete in the expensive state.
These numbers follow a year-long pattern of bonanza fundraising for congressional Democrats, who bested their GOP counterparts by similar margins last quarter. Their continued solid fundraising has helped them further expand their cash leads in many states. And their fundraising dominance mirrors what’s happening elsewhere in Congress, where more than 40 House GOP incumbents were each out-raised by at least one Democratic challenger last quarter.
Sens. Bill Nelson (D-FL), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Bob Casey (D-PA) all have more than $8 million in the bank, leagues ahead of their challengers, though recently announced self-funding Rep. Jim Renacci (R-OH) has the personal resources to match Brown, and billionaire Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) will likely outspend Nelson if he decides to run.
There are few bright spots for the GOP, even in states where their candidates did relatively well.
While each of the three Republicans running against Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-IN) has almost $2.5 million in the bank, Donnelly now has $5.3 million stashed away, and his opponents will have to spend much of their resources to try to win the GOP primary. Even Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), who posted the weakest quarterly numbers of any red-state Democrat facing re-election, has $4.7 million in the bank, significantly more than his best-funded challenger.
Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) posted an impressive $1.9 million in her quest to replace retiring Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN). But her primary opponent, former Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-TN), hauled in almost $1.5 million. Former Gov. Phil Bredesen (D) — whose candidacy Democrats hope will further expand the map — raised almost half a million dollars in his first month in the race. While Bredesen is millions of dollars behind Blackburn and Fincher in cash on hand, he’ll likely be able to close that gap while they fight out the primary.
Candidate cash isn’t all that matters in races, and Republican-aligned outside groups tend to spend significantly more on down-ballot elections. While Democratic campaign committees in the House and Senate have continued to outpace their GOP opponents, the Republican National Committee has continued to dominate the Democratic National Committee in fundraising over the past year, buoyed by its alliance with President Donald Trump and donors’ continued mistrust of the DNC. And Trump and Republicans have seen their poll numbers tick up from abysmal to merely problematic over the past six weeks, a sign that the expected Democratic wave may not be the tsunami many liberals are hoping to see.
But Democratic candidates’ continued cash bonanza is the latest sign that if that wave does come, they’re ready to surf.
In a press conference Thursday morning, about 14 hours before a potential government shutdown, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) reiterated that she plans to vote against the budget bill when it comes back to the lower chamber Thursday afternoon. But when pressed by reporters on whether she will whip her Democratic caucus to vote against the bill, which would imperil its passage, she demurred, saying only that she has told them she personally will vote no even though she views it as “a good bill.”
A few hours later, however, an aide for Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) confirmed to TPM that leadership is whipping its members against the bill, blasting out an e-mail noting that the deal “fails to provide a path forward on protecting DREAMers” and asking if they will oppose the legislation. The bill, however, is still expected to pass with a mix of Democratic and Republican votes.