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Cameron Joseph is Talking Points Memo's senior political correspondent based in Washington, D.C. He covers Capitol Hill, the White House and the permanent campaign. Previous publications include the New York Daily News, Mashable, The Hill and National Journal. He grew up near Chicago and is an irrationally passionate Cubs fan.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) will introduce a bill to close gun background check loopholes on Wednesday, less than four weeks after the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history in Las Vegas — even though he knows it has almost no chance to pass.
Murphy, a leading champion of gun law reform ever since the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre in his old congressional district, told TPM in an interview that the new bill is a way to try to “strike fear” into Republican lawmakers opposing popular gun reforms and the National Rifle Association, even if chances of passing it are “slim.”
“I wish it didn’t feel like Groundhog Day — but one day it won’t,” he told TPM, arguing that the tide of public pressure was beginning to turn against the NRA. “Our movement is getting stronger and stronger. By introducing this bill we give Republicans a choice: They can sign on, they can introduce an alternative, or they can stand on the sidelines… and make this an issue in their 2018 reelection
“There’s no great social change movement in this country that didn’t have failures before it had success,” he said. “Putting this bill in the hopper and using it as a pressure point for the movement is part of what grows our strength.”
The bill, which would make background checks nearly universal on commercial gun sales, is almost identical to a section of the gun control bill Democrats introduced that went nowhere last year. And it’s a more restrictive version than the bill introduced by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Pat Toomey (R-PA) that failed by a wide margin back in 2013 — when Democrats had control of the Senate and the White House.
Murphy admitted this legislation wouldn’t have stopped Las Vegas — but said the point was to stop future gun crime, not try to react every time a large-scale shooting spree hits the U.S.
“The NRA wants the anti-gun violence movement to only focus on the policy change that would have addressed the last shooting of victims numbering over 20. You cannot build a political movement if you change the issue you care about every three months and the gun industry knows that. That’s why the gun industry said after Sandy Hook, background checks wouldn’t have stopped the Sandy Hook murders,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is pass legislation that is prospective. I can’t pass anything that would reverse time and stop Las Vegas.”
But Murphy is convinced that things are starting to turn in favor of gun control, citing polling that 90 percent of Americans want to expand background checks, that three out of the four major statewide gun control referendums passed last year, and that the movement won all three Senate races it focused on last fall, in Pennsylvania, Nevada and New Hampshire. He also pointed to the NRA’s recent openness to a change in the rules to ban “bump stocks” that allowed the Las Vegas shooter to turn guns into automatic weapons during his murder spree that left 58 people dead and 546 injured.
“Just three weeks ago the gun lobby since the first time I’ve been in Congress suggested a willingness to change gun laws,” he told TPM. “The ground is shifting but you need legislation like this to rally people to the side of those who wants change and against those who don’t want change.”
Alabama GOP Senate nominee Roy Moore said late last year that the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing gay marriage was “even worse” than the notorious 1857 Dred Scott ruling that upheld slavery.
Moore, a hard-right former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice, has twice been removed from office for refusing to follow the rule of law — the second time for ordering probate judges in his state to disobey the U.S. Supreme Court’s Obergefell ruling legalizing gay marriage. Last November he said that decision was even worse than one that scholars widely consider the worst Supreme Court decision in U.S. history.
“In 1857 the United States Supreme Court did rule that black people were property. Of course that contradicted the Constitution, and it took a civil war to overturn it. But this ruling in Obergefell is even worse in a sense because it forces not only people to recognize marriage other than the institution ordained of God and recognized by nearly every state in the union, it says that you now must do away with the definition of marriage and make it between two persons of the same gender or leading on, as one of the dissenting justices said, to polygamy, to multi-partner marriages,” Moore said in a podcast interview last November, shortly after he was suspended without pay from the court.
“We’ve got to go back and recognize that what they did in Obergefell was not only to take and create a right that does not exist under the Constitution but then to mandate that that right compels Christians to give up their religious freedom and liberty,” he continued.
In Dred Scott the court denied citizenship to African Americans and found the Missouri Compromise unconstitutional, triggering a backlash that helped lead to the Civil War.
Moore’s comments were made in an interview with Here I Stand, a podcast run by the religious conservative Christian Emergency League, and shared with TPM by the Democratic group American Bridge.
Moore wasn’t the only one on the religious right who compared Obergefell to Dred Scott. It became a talking point from Christian conservatives like Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum two years ago. But Moore clearly went a step further by saying the decision was worse, not just listing it as another decision from the court he thought was terrible.
Moore’s remark isn’t the only time he’s waded into murky racial waters in his political and judicial career. As TPM has reported, Moore successfully led the charge against removing segregationist language from the Alabama state constitution, his biggest backer is a neo-Confederate who wants the South to secede again, and Moore’s Foundation for Moral Law hosted the neo-Confederate, pro-secession League of the South’s annual “Secession Day” events in 2009 and 2010, though Moore’s staff claim he didn’t know about the events.
He’s also continued to question whether President Obama was born in the U.S., and his campaign has recently shared racially charged memes during this Senate run.
“The Dred Scott decision ranks as the worst Supreme Court decision in American history and it’s appalling that Moore doesn’t understand that, though sadly not surprising considering his history of embracing white supremacists and pro-Confederate groups,” American Bridge spokesperson Allison Teixeira Sulier told TPM. “Roy Moore is not fit to serve in any capacity, and his hateful views are un-American.”
Moore’s campaign declined to respond to requests for comment or clarification about his remarks.
In spite of his controversies, Moore remains the favorite against former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones ahead of the Dec. 12 election to fill Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ old Senate seat. He hass held a lead in the mid- to high-single digits in most public and private polling of the race.
Former Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-TN) has jumped into the race to replace retiring Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), setting up a likely race to the right against Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) that could benefit Democrats.
“We’re going to get in this race, and we’re going to get in it to win it, and go up there and try to get something done,” Fincher told The Tennesseean. “Let’s stand up with the president on his policies.”
The race has the potential to get nasty — and potentially give Democrats an opening in a solidly Republican state, especially if former Gov. Phil Bredesen (D) decides to run, which he’s considering. Attorney and Iraq War veteran James Mackler is Democrats’ current front-runner for the nomination.
In his opening interview as a candidate, Fincher hit Blackburn for helping push through a bill that hamstrung the Drug Enforcement Agency’s ability to crack down on bad actor pharmaceutical companies in a state where the opioid crisis has been especially severe.
“This is an issue that shows Tennesseans want someone to stand up against special interests,” he said. “We’re losing lives. Our jails, little towns and communities are broken. People, they go to Washington, and have stayed up there too long and are out of touch with what’s really happening all over this great state.”
Fincher, a gospel singer and seventh-generation farmer, was a political neophyte when he won his House seat in the 2010 GOP wave. He served three terms before retiring from the House at the end of last term.
It’s unclear whether Fincher will be able to raise the money to compete against the deep-pocketed Blackburn, who already has locked in an endorsement from former White House chief adviser Steve Bannon. But the race has a chance to become a hard-fought one — a result that could crack the door for Democrats.
Doug Jones is doing something rather surprising in his underdog Senate campaign to defeat former Judge Roy Moore (R) in Alabama: Running like an actual Democrat.
Jones’ core message and paid advertising are all about unity, working across the aisle and pocketbook issues. But he’s proclaimed liberal positions in a way that’s almost unheard of for Democrats running statewide in the Deep South, especially with the conservative Democrats who used to win in Alabama. It’s also a marked contrast to how Jon Ossoff finished his campaign in a hotly contested House race in Georgia, carefully emphasizing centrism and cutting government waste. Jones’ approach is even less cautious than that of Virginia gubernatorial nominee Ralph Northam (D), who took heat from the base for saying he’d “work with Trump” on occasion (though both Ossoff and Northam took mostly liberal positions).
A former U.S. attorney, Jones is avowedly pro-choice, even in the third trimester of pregnancy. He says climate change is real because he “believe[s] in science” and thinks President Trump shouldn’t have pulled out of the Paris Climate Accords. He wants to fix Obamacare, not dismantle it. He supports the DREAM Act, and wants undocumented immigrants brought here as children to stay in the U.S. He already campaigned with former Vice President Joe Biden, and has the endorsement of a number of national liberal groups like MoveOn.org that wouldn’t get within a mile of most southern white Democrats.
Those stances would be the kiss of death in deep-red Alabama under normal circumstances. But an off-year special election between Thanksgiving and Christmas means whoever can turn out their base best may win, and Jones badly needs the state’s African Americans and few liberals to come out in droves — without alienating the right-leaning voters he needs as part of his coalition.
National Republicans say Jones’ views already have blown his slim path to victory.
“Unless Alabama is the new California it’s going to be very difficult for him to win,” National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Cory Gardner (R-CO) told TPM.
Some local Republicans agree.
“He’s taking a seat that could be in play and putting it firmly in the Republican camp. If he’d just shut up on abortion and take some more moderate stances I think he’d be in a position to win,” said Alabama GOP strategist Chris Brown.
Other Alabama strategists on both sides of the aisle aren’t sure whether Jones’s refusal to moderate his positions, even as he emphasizes bipartisanship in his ads, will help or hurt his uphill campaign.
“If you were to make a list of litmus test issues for progressives, Doug Jones checks them all,” Richard Allen Smith, an Alabama native who’s worked on a number of Democratic races in the state, told TPM. “It’s helpful in this race because of the timing of the election and the nature of the opponent. It’s going to be entirely about turnout, whoever turns out their base in this low-turnout race is going to win.”
“You’ve got to motivate your base in a special election and that’s what he’s doing,” said one Republican strategist in Alabama.
The race to fill Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ old Senate seat is an unusual one in many ways. Moore, a hardline social conservative who has twice been thrown off the Alabama Supreme Court for violating the rule of law and refusing to enforce higher court rulings, is detested by many in the state, including a number of moderate Republicans — the only reason this is a real race in the first place. He’s fresh off a divisive primary where President Trump endorsed the man he defeated, Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL).
Jones, on the other hand, has an impressive biography. He’s best known in the state for successfully prosecuting Ku Klux Klansmen who bombed a black church in Birmingham and killed four girls, decades after other prosecutors had failed. And the Dec. 12 election means the race will almost definitely have low turnout, making exciting the base all the more important.
But it’s still Alabama, a state Trump won by almost a two-to-one margin and where he has his third-highest job approval rating of any state, comfortably above 55 percent, according to Morning Consult polls.
The few public and private polls out there largely have found Moore with a lead in the mid- to high-single digits, hovering at or right below 50 percent.
The most controversial of Jones’s stances in the state—and the one that strategists in both parties say may have been a major error—was his unabashed support of legal abortion in a place where no one could remember a single pro-choice candidate who’d ever won a statewide election.
“I am a firm believer that a woman should have the freedom to choose what happens to her own body and I’m going to stand up for that and I’m going to make sure that continues to happen,” Jones said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” the day after Moore won the Republican primary.
“Once a baby is born I’m going to be there for that child, that’s where I become a right-to-lifer,” he continued.
“I wouldn’t have done that if I were Doug,” one senior Alabama Democratic strategist told TPM. “Alabama is a very conservative state. If the focus becomes the nationalized issues that probably hurts Doug.”
“I’ve seen a lot of candidates lose because they’re labeled [pro-choice] in this state whether it’s true or not,” said former Alabama Democratic Party Executive Director Jim Spearman, who described Jones as an old friend.
Those comments have already made their way onto the airwaves. The Great America Alliance, an outside group that supports Moore and is aligned with former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, is out with TV and digital ads slamming Jones for being pro-choice “even in the most extreme circumstances, including gruesome late-term and partial-birth abortions.”
Nevertheless, many credit Jones for running an authentic, strong campaign. They say while the abortion comments will likely hurt him, it would have been worse to try to focus-group his way to a victory.
“You may run some people off, granted, who are one-issue voters. But I think it shows integrity. He’s standing there ‘saying ‘this is who I am, this is how I’ve lived my life,'” said Spearman. “Overall I think the people of Alabama want to see somebody who has that integrity and they can be proud of in Washington.”
It’s clear Jones’s campaign doesn’t want to emphasize some of his more liberal views, instead focusing on how divisive Moore is.
“He’s running on kitchen table issues. If you look at the ads we have up it’s jobs, healthcare, and education,” said Jones adviser Joe Trippi. “We view this as an election of division and controversy versus unity and working together, listening to people and knowing there are good people on both sides of the issues and it’s time someone started to actually try to work across both sides rather than send another divisive extremist to Washington. We have plenty of them.”
In Jones’ own ads, he says he’ll “work across party lines” and “can workwith Republicans better than Roy Moore can workwithanyone.”
And it seems Jones’ comments weren’t politically calculated — for better or worse.
“I’ve known him for a very long time, and I wouldn’t expect Doug would be trying to fuzz up his positions on any issue. That’s just not who he is, he’s going to tell you what he thinks. I don’t know if that’s a particular political calculation,” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), who has known Jones for two decades, told TPM. “He’ll be more likely to win if they think ‘hey, this is an authentic guy, this is the Doug Jones we’ve always known.'”
Only time will tell whether Jones’ showing his true colors will help or hurt him in this race.
“We’ll have to see how these issues are framed as things go on. Roy Moore should win that race based on recent history — but you have to win them on the battlefield,” Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) told TPM.
This story has been updated to more accurately represent Ossoff and Northam’s positions.
RICHMOND, VA. — Former President Barack Obama took some veiled shots at President Donald Trump Thursday night, warning against the “politics of division and distraction” in his first day back on the campaign trail since Trump’s victory last November.
“We have folks who are deliberately trying to get folks angry, to demonize people with different ideas, to get the base all riled up because it provides a short-term tactical advantage,” Obama said at a rally for Virginia Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D), less than thee weeks until Virginia’s off-year gubernatorial election.
Obama never said Trump’s name during his mostly positive speech — but it was clear who he was talking about, taking shots at both Trump and Northam’s opponent, former Republican National Committee head Ed Gillespie.
“If you have to win a campaign by dividing people you’re not going to be able to govern them. You won’t be able to unite them if that’s how you start. Ralph Northam believes we should have an orderly immigration system, that we should crack down on criminals and gangs,” he said. “We don’t rise up by repeating the past, we rise up from learning from the past.”
Virginia’s election is being closely watched by strategists in both parties. The off-year gubernatorial elections are often telling of which party will have the edge in the next midterms. The added dynamic of GOP race-baiting and some close recent polls have especially heightened Democrats’ nerves, as they worry if they can’t win a race in a state Clinton carried their hopes of a big 2018 may be unrealistic.
Obama delivered a dire warning — one that sounded much less like a stretch than in earlier years.
“Our democracy is at stake and it’s at stake right here in Virginia,” he said. “You are going to send a message all across this great country and all around the world of just what it is America stands for,” he said.
Northam has had a small but durable lead in most public polls of Virginia, where Trump’s deep unpopularity is dragging down former Gillespie in a state Trump lost. Gillespie has danced around Trump even as he’s gone hardline on immigration. Virginia Gov. Terry MacAuliffe joked that he was treating Trump like “a communicable disease.”
Obama slammed Gillespie for his Trumpian ads, which have gone after Northam for voting against a bill for sanctuary cities that was manufactured by Republicans even though no such cities exist in Virginia.
“What he’s really trying to deliver is fear. What he believes is if you scare enough voters you just might score enough votes to win an election,” he said of Gillespie’s attacks. “It’s just as cynical as politics gets.”
Obama said Northam would deliver on law and order “without fanning anti-immigrant sentiment,” and invoked the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, an hour up the road, before ripping Gillespie’s “divisive” and “not true” attacks on Northam, a former army doctor.
“I don’t really think that somebody who spends his life operating on soldiers … is suddenly cozying up to street gangs,” he said.
While Obama didn’t mention Trump or Gillespie by name, Northam was happy to.
“My opponent, Ed Gillespie, is cut from the same cloth that Donald Trump is. He’s nothing more than a Washington lobbyist who’s become Donald Trump’s chief lobbyist,” he said after lamenting Trump’s campaign victory “based on hatred and bigotry and fear.”
It was clear that the crowd was there for the former president and not the Virginia Democratic ticket — the loudest applause of Northam’s whole speech was when he went to introduce Obama, having to pause after, “It is time.”
The biggest worry for Northam’s campaign is turning out base Democratic voters — especially the students and African Americans who appeared to make up a plurality of the crowd in Richmond. And it’s unclear how much Obama’s shine can wear off. The convention center had a solid crowd — the campaign said there were 6,250 people — but the room they’d booked was almost half-empty.
Obama specifically talked about the problem of turning out Democrats in off-year elections.
“Off-year elections, midterm elections, Democrats sometimes, y’all get a little sleepy, you get a little complacent,” he said. The stakes now don’t allow you to sleep. It’s going to come down to how bad you want it. I don’t want to hear folks complaining and not doing something about it. All the young people out here, you know, I think that it’s great that you hashtag and meme but I need you to vote.”
Obama’s speech was his second of the day, after stumping earlier for New Jersey gubernatorial front-runner Phil Murphy (D).
Virginia’s off-year gubernatorial races have long been an early sign of the national political mood ahead of midterm elections. This year, the contest in the commonwealth is testing something even bigger: Whether Democrats can navigate charged racial issues and win key races in the age of Donald Trump.
Republican nominee Ed Gillespie has been deluging the airwaves with ads bashing Virginia Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) for supporting sanctuary cities and accusing him of being “weak on MS-13” gang violence and wanting to tear down the state’s confederate monuments. Northam has held a slight lead in most public polls of the race, but strategists in both parties think the Nov. 5 election could still go either way.
That has some Democrats nervous 20 days out from the election.
“If something were to happen and we were to lose that governor’s race, shit, Republicans are going to want to make every race in the country a referendum on MS-13,” said one Democratic strategist working on a number of races around the country. “We’re getting full Donald Trump primal scream racism up on the air right now. We’d better be able to beat it. … We don’t want these guys to learn the way to win a race is to turn it into a white power argument.”
While Democrats see Gillespie’s decision to pivot hard right on hot-button cultural issues like immigration as one way to shore up his weak base, they admit that they better be able to defeat him in Virginia if they hope to hold Senate seats in even tougher territory next year and make a real play for winning back the House.
Virginia has long been a harbinger of future elections. Big wins by Govs. George Allen (R) in 1993, Tim Kaine (D) in 2005 and Bob McDonnell (R) in 2009 all were early signs that their parties would have huge success at the ballot box the next year. Even current Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s (D) closer-than-expected 2013 win against hardline conservative Ken Cuccinelli (R) was an early sign that all was not well for the Democratic Party heading into a disastrous 2014 midterm cycle.
A trio of public polls released Tuesday found Gillespie within the margin of error, including one that showed Gillespie with a lead for the first time in the campaign.
A loss in a state President Obama and Hillary Clinton carried could also deal a major psychic blow to Democrats looking to bounce back in the age of Trump — especially after a disappointing loss in an open House seat in Georgia and near misses in a number of other heavily Republican House seats across the country.
“The history is really clear that Virginia is the early warning system,” said Democratic strategist Jesse Ferguson, a Virginia native who’s a veteran of the Clinton campaign and dozens of others in the state and nationally. “No one should expect this to be anything but close and no one should downplay how important it is that Democrats win. You can write off a special election in a congressional district we had no business competing in in the first place as an aberration. Virginia will be not an aberration but an indication of where we are in our efforts to claw back from 2016.”
Gillespie’s hard-right charge on immigration is a major reversal of his previous, big-tent approach to politics, as TPM previously documented. He once warned racial demagoguery against immigrants was a “siren song” that Republicans must resist. But lately he’s been walking the tightrope on the issue, campaigning with Vice President Mike Pence while dancing around whether he’d invite President Trump to stump with him, and campaigning in immigrant-heavy communities in more liberal Northern Virginia even as he airs the charged ads in heavy rotation elsewhere in the state. That’s a contrast with Northam, who’s holding a rally with President Obama on Thursday.
“The Gillespie folks have found they have to get their base out and that means moving into some of these more social appeals,” said former Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA), who said he thought Northam was better positioned to win but predicted a close finish. “These races are no longer going after the center, it’s all about getting your voters. You’re going after your base with a subtle dog whistle, but you’re not going over the top.”
Democrats nervously remember how things have played out in the state the last few years. While they’ve won most key statewide races this decade, McAuliffe’s narrow win after he led the polls by a comfortable margin in 2013 was followed by Gillespie almost upsetting popular Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) in 2014 — a one-point margin no one predicted heading into election night. Hillary Clinton had a solid lead over Trump in Virginia for the entirety of the campaign, and an early alarm bell for her campaign on election night was Trump leading in Virginia early in the night before the big cities came in (she ended up winning the state by five points, similar to public polls).
Still, those elections came with Obama in the White House. Now, Trump’s there — and is about as unpopular in the commonwealth as nationally.
The MS-13 ads are particularly salient in Northern Virginia, where the Salvadorian gang has committed some heinous crimes in recent years, while the fight over removing Confederate monuments reverberates most in the more southern parts of the state — and is particularly charged in the wake of the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville.
Northam’s team says he has a small but steady lead — and Gillespie’s attacks are a sign of desperation. Northam’s response has been to outline his own law-and-order bona fides in ads while calling Gillespie’s attacks “a page from Donald Trump’s book.” His team recommends other Democrats do the same in highlighting their own candidates’ biographies to push back.
“He’s willing to do and say anything to get elected, principles be damned, and he’s getting desperate. He’s decided to go full Trump,” said Northam adviser Dave Turner. “People are seeing Ed Gillespie’s ads for what they are: Racially tinged Willie Horton style unmoored attacks.”
Gillespie’s campaign didn’t respond to requests for comment for this story. His allies dispute that his attacks are racially charged.
“Democrats have tried to use this issue and call it racist but … why would you want to give quarter to a gang that as recently as three months ago brutalized its victims?” Republican Party of Virginia Chairman John Whitbeck told TPM, pointing out that Northam did vote to protect sanctuary cities (even though none exist in Virginia). “I don’t know why Ralph Northam would put the rights of illegal immigrants over Virginians.”
Whitbeck said every election is now a base election — and predicted Gillespie’s move could send him to the governor’s mansion, demoralizing Democrats.
“In this particular era of polarization the turning out of your base is crucial to success. If you have the more enthusiastic voter side you’re likely to prevail,” Whitbeck said. “Democrats have tried to make every race a referendum on national politics, and they have lost every single one. If they lose this one, it will be a back-breaking blow to their narrative.”
The head of the Environmental Protection Agency in effect declared trench warfare on environmental groups on Monday, ending a practice he dubbed “Sue & Settle” by which the EPA would often settle lawsuits brought by outside groups in an attempt to get the agency to enforce its own rules.
“As of today with this directive and the memorandum, we’re no longer going to be involved in that practice,” Pruitt told a small group of reporters, including TPM, Monday morning at the EPA. “It’s a regulation through litigation process.”
Pruitt painted the policy as a way that environmental groups profited off the agency during the Obama years, while those groups worked together to circumvent the normal rule-making process and create more stringent environmental regulations.
“We should engage in rule-making that takes into consideration the voices that will be impacted across the country,” he said. “What this sue-and-settle practice has done historically has bypassed that altogether.”
The rule change could force environmental groups to spend much more time and effort on lawsuits aimed at making the EPA enforce its own rules and abide by agreed-upon timelines—spreading them thinner and making it harder for them to expend effort on other, more complicated cases. The EPA’s decision to refuse to reimburse lawyers’ fees also could be costly to environmental groups, as well as make it harder and less likely for average citizens and localities to undertake lawsuits to get the EPA to do what it’s legally required to do.
Pruitt pledged that the agency would no longer reimburse attorneys’ fees in cases where it decides to avoid a lawsuit, arguing that both environmental and business groups had abused it to enrich themselves in the past.
“This is not particular to one type of plaintiff,” he said. “There should be no attorneys’ fees paid, period, no matter who the plaintiff is.”
Combined with measures to slash staff, a pattern of issuing fewer and lighter fines, and the rollback of Obama-era rules that crack down on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants to mitigate the effects of climate change, Pruitt’s latest move is part of an overall shift at Trump’s EPA that’s radically more friendly to big business and hostile towards environmental groups.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, for instance, has railed against “Sue & Settle” for years.
The new memorandum formalizes a position of fighting every lawsuit tooth-and-nail that Pruitt had announced early in his tenure at the EPA. Back in February, he’d promised he wouldn’t allow “regulation through litigation.” The Justice Department also has stopped negotiating settlements that end up with payments to outside groups to cover attorneys’ or other fees.
Environmental groups fired back at Pruitt after his new declaration.
“Scott Pruitt and his polluter cronies continue to perpetrate lies about the law as an excuse for refusing enforcing it — but when it comes to the law, the truth has a way of catching up with you,” Sierra Club Environmental Law Program Director Pat Gallagher said in a statement. “If Pruitt thinks that by frivolously litigating deadline cases he will deter the Sierra Club or other citizen groups from holding him accountable in court, he should think again – we will not be deterred.”
Fewer than a dozen reporters were included at the event with Pruitt, and some of them, including TPM, rarely if ever cover the environmental beat closely—a fact that frustrated some environmental reporters who weren’t invited to attend:
Would be fascinated to know how he defines 'sue and settle' vs. regular settlements. But alas, @EPA didn't invite us https://t.co/mLPW0dOttu
A charity founded by Alabama GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore is selling its building — a move that could make Moore more than a half-million dollars.
The Washington Post reports that the Foundation for Moral Law, which is currently run by Moore’s wife Kayla, has put its building on the market for $1.9 million. That could net Moore $540,000, because of an unusual arrangement where Moore’s charity paid him huge sums for part-time work and promised future pay when it ran low on funds.
Moore, who twice served on (and was thrown off of) the Alabama supreme court, made more than $180,000 a year from the organization — more than $1 million in total. The unusual workings of the charity were a problem for him in the primary, but not enough to stop him from romping against Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL). He’s held a lead in early polls against Democrat Doug Jones in spite of Moore’s multiple controversies in the deeply conservative state.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) will forego a run for governor and stay in the Senate, she announced Friday, keeping a key moderate Republican in the upper chamber.
“I have decided that the best way that I can contribute to these priorities is to remain a member of the United States Senate,” Collins announced Friday in Maine.
Collins is one of the last true remaining Republican moderates in the Senate, and her decision to stay means the Senate will retain one of the few Republicans who has shown a willingness to stand up to President Trump and break with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).
The three-term senator had given serious thought to returning to her state for good and running for governor, something she’s done before, and during the Friday morning event at a regional Chamber of Commerce event she said the “hands-on nature” of gubernatorial work “very much appealed” to her. But she said she could do more by remaining in D.C.
“Ultimately I have been guided by my sense of where I could do the most for the people of Maine and for the nation. These are difficult times for our country and the Senate reflects the discord and division that characterize the Senate today,” she said. “I realized how much needs to be done in a divided and troubled Washington.”
Her decision to stay slows a rush to the exits from moderate Republicans and independent thinkers in both chambers. Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) and Reps. Dave Reichert (R-WA) and Charlie Dent (R-PA) are some of the Republicans who have shown a willingness to buck party leaders who have decided not to run again.
Collins’ vote has been pivotal through much of her time in Congress, especially in recent years. She was one of three Republicans who voted against the GOP’s attempts to repeal Obamacare earlier this year, along with Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), effectively killing the bill.
She was also one of just two Republicans, along with Murkowski, to oppose the nomination Secretary of Education Betsy Devos. She has played a key role on a number of other bipartisan efforts over the years — she was one of just two Republicans to vote for President Obama’s $800 billion stimulus package in 2009, casting the deciding votes for a deal that many economists credit with halting the economic collapse.
If Collins had run and won, Maine law says the governor would pick her replacement, which most experts think means controversial outgoing Gov. Paul LePage (R) would put in a placeholder who would likely be much more conservative than her. Democrats would have likely run a serious challenge in 2020. But now that’s moot — and the Senate will retain one of the few of a dying breed, a true moderate Republican.
In 2004, a bipartisan coalition of Alabama leaders moved to eliminate sections of the state constitution mandating school segregation and poll taxes. They assumed it’d be an easy feat — until Roy Moore got involved.
Democrats and Republicans led by then-Gov. Bob Riley (R) worked together on an amendment to remove language in the state constitution mandating “separate schools for white and colored children” and allowing poll taxes, Jim Crow-era requirements that people to pay to vote that disenfranchised most black people.
The changes were purely symbolic — all of the state constitutional language had already been struck down by state and federal courts — but civil rights and business leaders saw it as a way to heal old wounds and make the state more attractive to big business.
The opposite happened instead, and Moore’s fierce opposition likely made the difference.
“He had a huge impact. It was a measure that was set to pass without much opposition and then because he got involved it changed the dynamic completely,” said Susan Kennedy of the Alabama Education Association, the state public teachers’ lobby that supported the amendment.
At the time, Moore, who is currently the GOP nominee and the front-runner to become Alabama’s next U.S. senator, had recently been booted from the state supreme court for defying higher court orders to remove a Ten Commandments statue from in front of his courthouse. That fight had made him a superstar in the religious right both in the state and nationally.
When conservative evangelical activists including the Alabama Christian Coalition began warning about adverse effects of the segregation amendment he stepped up to be the amendment’s most prominent foe — a move that kept his name in the headlines as he geared up for a 2006 primary challenge against Riley and sent the amendment down to a narrow defeat.
“This amendment is a wolf in sheep’s clothing and the people of Alabama should be aware of it,” Moore told the Birmingham News in 2004, warning it would “open the door to an enormous tax increase” — one of many broadsides he issued.
His argument worked. The statewide measure failed by about 2,000 votes, out of 1.4 million cast. Every subsequent attempt to remove the language since that initial failure has failed, most recently in 2012.
Moore’s stance against the amendment was one of many of his efforts over two decades that has built him a fiercely loyal following on the religious right. That base wasn’t enough when he ran against Riley in 2006, but it powered his primary victory over Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL) last month and has him favored to win the Dec. 12 general election. It’s also one in a long line of racially charged episodes in Moore’s career.
Moore faces former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones, who is best known for successfully prosecuting, decades later, Ku Klux Klan member responsible for the 1963 Birmingham church bombing that killed four young black girls.
Alabama’s state constitution still contains the following language:
“Separate schools shall be provided for white and colored children, and no child of either race shall be permitted to attend a school of the other race.”
A ‘Black Eye’ For Alabama
The battle over removing segregationist language is part of a much larger effort that has pitted reformers, civil rights groups and many in the business community against Old South traditionalists and some other conservatives in the state for much of the last two decades.
The amendment was a part of Riley’s push to modernize the state constitution, a sprawling, racist document dating to 1901 that codified Jim Crow and created a strong state central government.
“Federal and state court rulings have struck down a lot of these [clauses] as unconstitutional, but it was viewed by many as a black eye for the state,” Toby Roth, who served as Riley’s chief of staff during the constitutional fights, told TPM.
The amendment to remove segregationist language sailed through the Democratic-controlled state legislature with strong bipartisan support, and supporters expected it to pass when put to a statewide vote. But lawmakers also added a provision that would have stripped a 1956 amendment passed in the wake of the 1954 Supreme Court decision desegregating schools. That amendment said Alabamans had no constitutional “right to education or training at public expense.”
Moore and hardline conservatives pounced to argue the removal of that language would allow for a backdoor tax increase by judges who would see it as granting a constitutional right to an education, warning it would hurt taxpayers and threaten private schools and homeschoolers.
Lawmakers were caught off-guard by the heated opposition. But while they’d had past success in removing other racist language, even in those efforts it’d been clear that not everyone in Alabama was ready to let go of the Old South: A 2000 amendment to remove language banning interracial marriage had passed, but by a closer-than-expected 60 percent to 40 percent margin.
This amendment got caught in a more recent fight over education funding as well, an issue that’s both racially charged and far from symbolic for many voters in the state.
In 1993, a state judge had struck down the education language as unconstitutional while ruling that the state needed to spend more on schools. The state supreme court struck down that ruling in 2002, with Moore on the court. Many white Alabamians had pulled their kids out of public schools during desegregation, creating a new de facto segregated school system in parts of the state and leaving little incentive for white Alabamians, especially wealthier ones, to pay to improve schools that in parts of the state were heavily black.
“People were afraid that it would reignite the [school] equity argument that was sued over in the 1990s,” said Kennedy. ”
Many voters’ opposition to more school funding was and is ideological and financial, not purely racially driven. But civil rights groups argue that the effect is the same.
“When you talk about not guaranteeing or taking away the language from the Constitution not guaranteeing the right to a public education, that’s racist,” Southern Christian Leadership Conference President Charles Steele Jr., a former Alabama state senator, told NPR at the time.
The most prominent politician besides Moore battling the amendment was his protege and former staffer, Tom Parker, who was running for the Alabama Supreme Court at the time. During that campaign, Parker spoke at an event celebrating Nathan Bedford Forrest, the Confederate general and Ku Klux Klan leader, hosted by opponents of the civil rights movement, and handed out Confederate battle flags at the funeral of a woman believed to have been the last living widow of a Confederate soldier.
The battle over the amendment came just a year after the Christian Coalition had helped defeat a Riley-backed push to increase state taxes to invest more on education and infrastructure.
The ongoing tax fights had made many conservatives wary of any constitutional changes, with a faction that simply opposed any tweaks.
“You do have a more conservative wing of the Republican Party that’s always suspicious of any constitution changes as a backdoor attempt to raise taxes,” Roth said.
Parker and Moore explicitly made that argument.
Moore told the Associated Press that the amendment was “another attempt to open the door for a court-ordered tax increase without the consent of the people” after they’d defeated the earlier amendment, while Parker ran radio ads saying that it would create “a new right to education for citizens of all ages” and warning “liberals will use this to pressure judges into raising your taxes.”
Parker won by a narrow margin even though he was heavily outspent in the race.
Moore’s other controversies
Moore is best known nationally for his controversial religious views. He’s said Muslims shouldn’t be allowed in Congress, that Sharia law is already being implemented in parts of the Midwest, and that “homosexual conduct should be illegal.”
But his racial views have also raised questions.
Moore’s Foundation for Moral Law hosted the neo-Confederate, pro-secession League of the South’s annual “Secession Day” events in 2009 and 2010, though Moore’s staff claim he didn’t know about it . League leaders have participated in pro-Moore rallies both times he was removed from the state court. They also vociferously opposed the 2004 segregation amendment and actively campaigned for Parker, Moore’s protege. As TPM previously reported, Moore’s biggest donor, Michael Peroutka, is a neo-Confederate who has advocated that the South should secede and for years served on the League of the South’s board.
Moore has said he doesn’t support secession and believes “all men are created equal,” though he’s declined to disavow the League or Peroutka. His campaign didn’t respond to multiple requests to discuss this story.
Moore also spoke at an event for the Council of Conservative Citizens in 1995 — a group that Charleston mass murderer Dylann Roof would cite as a key influence two decades later.
“I did not consider the Council of Conservative Citizens to be a ‘white supremacist’ group when I spoke to them 20 years ago,” Moore said in 2015, pointing out other prominent Republicans had spoken to the group.
Moore’s office is adorned with a portrait of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and busts of generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, though he’s claimed that’s because they’re fellow West Point graduates.
He hasn’t shied away from racial controversy during his current Senate run either. Moore has continued to question whether President Obama was born in the United States, and referred to “reds and yellows” as he lamented racial division during a campaign speech. Moore’s Facebook page has shared memes claiming Obama was Muslim and one that showed black people stomping a cop car with text saying the way to stop riots was to “play the national anthem — they’ll all sit down.”
Those who supported the amendment are split about Moore’s reason for taking on the fight.
Most don’t think his views are rooted chiefly in the racial politics that conservative Alabama politicians in both parties have exploited for years. But while some see a purist ideologue, others see an opportunist who’s fine making common cause with more fringe figures to further his own ambitions.
“I can’t say at this point what drove Roy Moore other than his own self-interest,” University of Alabama Law Professor Bryan Fair, who is black and serves on the board of the Southern Poverty Law Center, told TPM.
Fair argued Moore’s involvement may have been crass opportunism.
“It was perceived as a racial issue by significant parts of the population, especially the African American population, who very much wanted to see this language removed,” he said. “Roy Moore didn’t use the N word but one doesn’t have to use the N word to be a racist or act with racial motives or with a callousness or indifference towards racial inequality.”
Others think Moore and his allies on this fight were purists driven by an ideological opposition to state-funded education — one critic who asked not to be named in order to speak frankly described him as “a religious nut” and a “zealot” but not a racist. Moore has often railed against public schools and even once wrote that public pre-school was an “unjustifiable attempt to indoctrinate our youth” and compared it to Nazi indoctrination programs.
“I would not go so far as to say the Moore camp had racist motivations. It would be completely consistent with them being suspicious of activist judges trying to raise revenues from the bench. Could you find someone who had racist motivations who was on his side on this? I’m sure you could. But I’ve disagreed with Judge Moore on several things and I would never ascribe his personal motivations to a racist agenda,” said Roth, Riley’s former chief of staff.
“There is a philosophy that any additional services offered by the state government will cost additional money and there is a constituency that wants to leave a cap on that. The segregationist language was secondary to that concern for them,” said Kennedy.
Others think both are true — that Moore is an ideologue driven by theocratic, anti-government views who is also a savvy politician willing to make common cause with racists, even though racial animus doesn’t drive his own views.
“Moore spoke to some crazy groups in the past like the League of the South but that wasn’t race-based, it was a lot more about groups that buy what he’s saying,” said another former Riley staffer. “Moore is not a George Wallace racial demagogue guy. He’s a demagogue on a lot of things, race just isn’t one of them.”