House Democrats Probe Use of Taxpayer Money at Trump Hotels

House Democrats are demanding information on the use of taxpayer money at President Donald Trump’s hotels and properties, including during Vice President Pence’s trip this week to Doonbeg, Ireland. The push is part of an expanded effort this fall to investigate the president’s financial entanglements and business practices.

The House Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform committees announced Friday that they sent a series of letters regarding “multiple efforts” by the president, vice president, and other Trump administration officials to spend taxpayer money at properties owned by Trump. They say the spending could violate the Constitution and bolster the case for Trump’s impeachment.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said in a statement that the spending is “of grave concern” to his committee, which is investigating whether to recommend articles of impeachment to the full House. House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said that his panel “does not believe that U.S. taxpayer funds should be used to personally enrich President Trump, his family, and his companies.”

FILE – House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat, prepares for a television interview at the Capitol in Washington, July 26, 2019.

The letters come after Pence stayed at Trump’s resort in Doonbeg , Ireland, this week. Doonbeg is on the other side of Ireland from Dublin, where he had meetings. The Democrats also sent letters to the White House and Secret Service about Trump’s suggestion earlier this month that his Miami-area golf course host next year’s Group of Seven summit with foreign leaders. The Democrats say those instances, among others, could violate the Constitution’s emoluments clause, which bans the president from taking gifts from foreign governments.

The push comes as Democrats are trying to keep public attention on their investigations of Trump. They have spent much of the year probing episodes detailed in special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, which did not exonerate the president on obstruction of justice. But lawmakers say they think the American public may have even more interest in Trump profiting off of his presidency as they weigh whether to move forward on impeachment.

“We have been focused on the Mueller report and that is a very small part of the overall picture,” said Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin, a member of the Judiciary panel. “We must get America focused on the ongoing violations against basic Constitutional principles.”

In addition to looking at Trump’s use of his properties, two House committees are continuing to investigate his relationship with banks with which he did business. And the Judiciary panel is also expected to investigate hush money payments that Trump paid to kill potentially embarrassing stories.

Rhode Island Rep. David Cicilline, another Democrat on the Judiciary panel, says he believes that the misuse of public funds or financial corruption make Americans especially angry. And while people have heard a lot about the Mueller report, he says they may know less about the emoluments clause.

“I think you’ll see a lot more of that in the coming months,” Cicilline said.

 

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Kansas’ Pompeo Could Swing Senate Race, but Will He Run?

Many attending U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s college lecture Friday in his home state of Kansas listened for clues about whether he might run for the Senate next year, though it could be many months before anyone finds out. 
 
Three Democrats and four Republicans are already actively running for the seat held by Republican Senator Pat Roberts, who isn’t seeking a fifth term, and several others are expected to join them. Weeks after Pompeo said a run is “off the table,” though, he is still creating a buzz and looming over the race, as only he has enough name recognition and support among Kansas conservatives to afford to wait until next June’s filing deadline to decide. 
 
If he does run, Pompeo would enter the race as the favorite. 
 
“It’s the Pompeo decision, and then everything else trickles down,” said Joe Kildea, a vice president for the conservative interest group Club for Growth. 
 
Other candidates don’t have the luxury of waiting and the field is likely to grow, with GOP Representative Roger Marshall of western Kansas expected to announce his candidacy Saturday at the state fair. 

FILE – Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts, right , Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado, speaks Nov. 5, 2015, during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Pompeo wasn’t expected to directly address the speculation about his interest in running during his speech Friday at Kansas State University, but that hasn’t stopped others from suggesting he’s the person for the job. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell identified Pompeo as his preferred candidate shortly after Roberts announced in January that he wasn’t seeking re-election. 
  
The GOP hasn’t lost a Senate race in Kansas since 1932, but many Republicans worry about a repeat of the governor’s race last year. Kris Kobach, a nationally known advocate of tough immigration policies, narrowly won a crowded primary, alienated moderates and lost to Democrat Laura Kelly. He launched his Senate campaign in July. 
 
For Kobach’s GOP detractors, Pompeo would solve their perceived problems. His entry would likely clear most of the Republican field, and GOP leaders believe Pompeo would have no trouble winning in November 2020, making it easier for Republicans to retain their Senate majority. 
 
And WDAF-TV reported that Kansas’ other senator, Republican Jerry Moran, told reporters Wednesday at a Kansas City-area event that he didn’t know Pompeo’s current thinking “but I wouldn’t be surprised if he entered that race.” 
  
Fellow Republicans concede that Pompeo, a former congressman and CIA director, has reasons not to run, including the prestige that comes with being the nation’s top diplomat. He’s currently dealing with weighty issues such as new sanctions on Iran from the Trump administration, a tariff war with China and questions about whether hopes for nuclear talks with North Korea are fading. 
 
“I think he can’t say that he’s wanting to run for Senate now,” said Tim Shallenburger, a former two-term state treasurer and Kansas Republican Party chairman. “He’s got to wait, and I think he can afford to wait.”  

FILE – Then-Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is pictured in Lenexa, Kan., June 8, 2017.

Kobach, who served as Kansas’ secretary of state but first built his national profile on immigration issues, has argued that as a Senate nominee, he’d benefit from the higher turnout that normally comes with a presidential election year and a greater focus on issues such as immigration. Some local Republican leaders agree and feel less anxious about Kobach’s possible nomination victory. 
 
Other GOP candidates include Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle; Dave Lindstrom, a Kansas City-area businessman and former Kansas City Chiefs player; and Bryan Pruitt, a conservative gay commentator. Also, Marshall has been flirting with running for months, and other potential Republican candidates include Alan Cobb, president and CEO of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, and Matt Schlapp, the American Conservative Union’s president. 
 
The Democratic candidates with active campaigns are former federal prosecutor Barry Grissom, former Representative Nancy Boyda, and Usha Reddi, a city commissioner in the northeast Kansas city of Manhattan. 
 
Don Alexander, a manufacturing firm owner who is the GOP chairman in Neosho County in southeastern Kansas, said it’s early to be trying to size up the race, almost 11 months before the August 2020 primary. He said he and other Republicans trust Pompeo to “know where he’s needed most.” 

President’s support seen
 
“I’m sure the president doesn’t want him to leave,” said Helen Van Etten, a Republican National Committee member from Topeka. 
 
But Van Etten said comments from Pompeo that he’ll stay on as secretary of state as long as Trump will have him leave an “open door” for a Senate bid. 
  
Some Republicans, such as Alexander, take Pompeo at his word that he won’t run. Others, including Shallenburger, read Pompeo’s statements as meaning he isn’t interested right now but that he may reconsider if he doesn’t like how the race develops. 
 
“He can announce on the filing deadline and cause most of the people in there to get out,” Shallenburger said. 

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Ex Pro-Hockey Player, Policeman Learns Ropes as Congressional Freshman

DULUTH, MN / WASHINGTON –  “They don’t make these type of skates anymore,” quips U.S. Representative Pete Stauber, as he pulls out a vintage pair of Daoust 501’s from his dusty hockey bag.  “When I retired from the Detroit Red Wings, they gave me a new pair.”

The first-year congressman from Minnesota is sitting in his House of Representatives office, just a few hours before he skates onto the ice for a charity hockey game.

It’s a little slice of home in his pressure-packed day of Capitol Hill meetings, committee and floor votes, and personal appearances.
 
Reagan-motivated public service

Pete Stauber started playing hockey at age 4. He went on to play professionally for the Detroit Red Wings for three years.  His 1988 national champion college hockey team was invited to the White House.  He says his meeting with then-President Ronald Reagan inspired him to eventually enter public service.

For more than two decades Pete Stauber worked as a Duluth, Minnesota,  police officer, then as a city and county commissioner. But he wanted more.  He and his wife had a heart-to-heart talk about a possible run for U.S. Congress.  Jodi Stauber is a retired Air Force pilot who served in Iraq.  She later became the highest-ranking enlisted person in Duluth’s 148th Fighter Wing and the first woman to hold that job. 

The Staubers say they’ve never led a typical 9 to 5 family life, so they adjusted by “juggling those different times,” says Jodi, “and carving out those special moments when we can, making them even better and more precious to us.”

Jodi stays home in Minnesota to care for the couple’s four children – as most female spouses of Congressmen do – including their 16-year-old son Isaac who has Down syndrome.  

Balancing controversial issues with local needs

Stauber’s congressional district is mainly rural, located in northern Minnesota.  He is a staunch Republican who got a boost when U.S. President Donald Trump campaigned for him and promised to “restore mineral exploration.” 


From Hockey Player to Minnesota Legislator in Divided America video player.
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The first bill  that Stauber introduced was actually written by his predecessor, a Democrat.  But it never got to the U.S. House floor for a vote in the last congressional session.  The bill if enacted would clear the way for the first copper-nickel sulfide mine in an area of Minnesota called “the Iron Range” – a storied mining district known for its rich iron resources.  

The $1 billion project would potentially create 360 mining jobs, with spin-off opportunities that could bring the total to 1,000 jobs.  In addition, the mine would bring millions of dollars in investments and fulfill Stauber’s campaign pledge to “unleash the economic engine” in Minnesota’s 8th district.

The challenge, however, has been to balance that growth with environmental worries.  

The proposed mine is upstream from the Indian reservation of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.  The band uses the nearby St. Louis River and Lake Superior for hunting and fishing and claims the mine will have “devastating impacts” to those waters.

Chairman Kevin DuPuis says his Fond du Lac Band isn’t against mining, but that “if mining is going to happen, have it be responsible mining.”  

Otherwise, “if we lose the ability to fish … it’s everybody that loses the ability to fish,” he added.  

In early February, the bill was sent to a House Natural Resources subcommittee where it still sits.  The committee leadership will decide whether or when to act on the measure. But with the Democrats in control, there is no telling when a bill sponsored by a Republican will get a hearing or vote.  Ironically, Stauber’s predecessor, Democrat Rick Nolan tried to get a copper mine bill through a Republican controlled congress.  It passed the House but was never put to a vote in the Senate.

Migrants vs borders

ep. Steve Stauber talks to a constituent during a tour of Enchanted Dairy, a 1,800-head, family-owned dairy farm in Little Falls, Minnesota. (Photo: C. Presutti)

Stauber seemed at ease as the flatbed tractor rounded the corner of the dairy barn.  Wearing a camouflage knit hat and blue denim coat, Stauber was getting a tour of Enchanted Dairy, a 1,800-head, family-owned dairy farm in Little Falls, Minnesota, which boasts a 40-cow rotary parlor for milking.

In a discussion over Land O’ Lakes cheese bites and milk, local farmers discussed the importance of Hispanic migrant workers and getting an immigration policy that works.  “The president’s system obviously is broke,” stated Enchanted Dairy owner Ron Miller.

A month later, Stauber flew to Arizona to see what officials need to secure the U.S. border with Mexico.  In a tweet, Stauber stood at the edge of the Colorado River and showed how “between 100-150 illegal immigrants come up this bank every single day.”  

When VOA asked how he planned to reconcile his conservative immigration stance with the farmers’ needs for more workers, Stauber dipped back to his experience as a 23-year police officer: “We are a nation of laws…and we enforce the laws. I don’t get to pick and choose which laws.”

Stauber suggested that more teenagers take two-year vocational degrees to bring more Americans into those farm openings.

Hockey politics

Stauber committed the only penalty in the charity hockey game. (Photo: C. Presutti)

Near the end of the charity hockey game, Stauber committed the only game penalty.  He told VOA he deserved it, “It was a good penalty…..I tripped a guy, hooked a guy, and the ref [referee] caught me.”

Hockey is a very rough sport, and learning to cope with its rules and other challenges helps him in the new arena on Capitol Hill.  “Your off-the-ice conduct was just as important as your on-ice conduct…. And you have to learn to win and you have to learn to lose.”  

 

 

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Paralysis Setting in at US Election Watchdog Just When It Is Needed Most

Amid growing concern about the U.S. election system’s vulnerability to manipulation, the nation’s premiere election watchdog just suffered a major setback.

Last week, Matthew Petersen, the Republican vice chairman of the six-member Federal Election Commission, resigned from his post, leaving the body without the four members needed to carry out its key functions.

Often mistaken for running elections in the United States, the FEC plays another, albeit no less important, role in the country’s political system: keeping tabs on billions of dollars candidates raise and spend each election cycle.

To be sure, candidates and parties will continue to file campaign finance reports with the FEC, according to FEC Chair Ellen Weintraub, while commission lawyers vet their veracity before posting them online.

Commission hamstrung

But when it comes to making key decisions — from investigating violations of campaign finance laws to taking enforcement actions against scofflaws — the commission has become hamstrung.

FILE – U.S. Federal Election Commission Commissioner Ellen Weintraub testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, May 22, 2019.

“We have an important function of ensuring disclosure of the money behind the candidates and political groups that are out there and that will go on,” Weintraub, a Democrat, said in an interview. “However, enforcement and policymaking, that’s going to be a lot more affected by this because in order to issue any rules or any adviser opinions or conclude any enforcement actions, including any penalties for anyone who has violated the laws, we can’t do any of that without at least four commissioners on board.”

Created in 1975 to enforce federal election laws, the FEC is a bipartisan body of three Republicans and three Democrats, an ideological split designed to prevent the party in power from using the body as a weapon against the other party.

To investigate a violation or get anything of consequence done, the commission needs a quorum of at least four members. But with Petersen’s departure, the commissioners can’t even hold meetings.

So what happens if the commission receives a complaint about a major campaign finance violation or sees Russian-sponsored ads cropping up on Facebook as they did during the 2016 presidential election?

“Well, that’s going to be a problem because we are really going to be limited in our options as to what we can do about that,” Weintraub said.

In response to a complaint, she said, FEC lawyers can prepare an analysis and make a recommendation to the commission as to whether the case should be dismissed, settled or investigated.

“But they require a decision from the commission and we won’t be able to make those decisions,” Weintraub said.

Grave consequences

The paralysis at the FEC has grave consequences. With the 2020 election season heating up and intelligence agencies warning about foreign interference, the inability of the nation’s main election watchdog to evaluate foreign and domestic actors seeking to influence the vote threatens the integrity of the system, current and foreign FEC officials warn.

“It troubles me greatly and actually I think it’s to crisis proportions what might happen in the election,” said Ann Ravel, who served as a Democratic member of the FEC from 2013 to 2017 and as its chair in 2015.”The fact that there is so much money that is going to be spent in this election is an additional reason why the FEC should be functional.”

FILE – President Donald Trump addresses the audience at the 75th annual AMVETS National Convention in Louisville, Ky., Aug.21, 2019.

In June, advertising media agency GroupM said it expected political ad spending in the U.S. to reach about $10 billion in 2020.

To ensure a fully functional FEC, Ravel said, President Donald Trump should nominate members to the three vacant slots on the commission.

By tradition, FEC nominees are sent to the Senate in pairs, one Democrat and one Republican. In 2017, Trump tapped Texas lawyer Trey Trainor for a vacant Republican seat on the commission.

FILE – Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 28, 2017.

But because Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer did not recommend a nominee for a Democratic seat, the Senate has yet to take up the nomination, according to Hans von Spakovsky, a former Republican member of the FEC.

“The onus here is on the Democrats to put forward a Democratic nominee so they can get two people confirmed,” von Spakovsky said.

Angelo Roefaro, a spokesman for Schumer, did not respond to a request for comment.

Partisan gridlock at the FEC is a fairly recent phenomenon. Until the late 2000s, the body was relatively well-functioning. But growing ideological polarization over campaign finance over the past decade, exacerbated by a landmark 2010 Supreme Court ruling freeing labor unions and corporations to spend money to influence elections, has led to perpetual bickering among the commissioners.

“We’ve seen that in Washington in general, and it’s not surprising that it would show up on an evenly divided body,” Weintraub said. “And that has made it a lot harder for us to come to consensus.”

The result has been growing inaction.

According to a recent report from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School, the commission deadlocked on 37.5 percent of regular enforcement cases in 2016, compared with 4.2 percent in 2006.

“On most matters of significance, the Commission cannot reach four votes,” the report said.

Partisanship issues

Partisanship has prevented the commission from taking any action in response to Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. A proposed new rule for disclaimers on the kind of political ads used by Russian operatives has floundered. And in August, Republican members of the commission blocked an investigation into allegations that Russians donated millions of dollars to the National Rifle Association to benefit Trump’s 2016 campaign.

“It’s important to note that that every single time there has been a split on an enforcement decision, it has been because the Democrats on the commission wanted to pursue an enforcement action and the Republicans on the commission wanted to block it,” Weintraub said.

Caroline Hunter, the sole Republican member of the commission, did not respond to a request to comment on Weintraub’s criticism. But von Spakovsky said Weintraub’s claim “is simply not the case.”

With the commission deadlocked, civil penalties imposed on violators have plummeted over the past decade. In 2016, the FEC levied less than $600,000 in penalties, compared with roughly $5.5 million in 2006, according to the Brennan Center.

The FEC’s dysfunction has spurred calls in recent years for structural reforms.

One proposal calls for the creation of a specially selected panel to recommend non-ideological nominees. Another seeks to change the FEC from a six-member structure to a five-commissioner structure. But Republicans oppose the idea.

“The problem with that is that it would give one political party the ability to control the commission,” von Spakovsky said. “And you don’t want that in a commission that regulates campaign finance, because it would give one political party the ability to use a federal agency for partisan political purposes.”

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8chan Owner Pledges Changes in House Testimony About Links to Mass Shootings 

8chan, the online message board linked to several recent mass shootings, plans to restrict parts of the website during a “state of emergency,” site owner Jim Watkins told a U.S. House panel in a written statement. 

Watkins completed his closed-door deposition Thursday, said Representative Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat who chairs the Homeland Security Committee, and Ranking Republican Mike Rogers of Alabama. The panel last month subpoenaed the American living in the Philippines to answer its questions about whether the website “amplifies extremist views, leading to the radicalization of its users.” 

Watkins “provided vast and helpful information to the committee about the structure, operation and policies of 8Chan and his other companies. We look forward to his continued cooperation with the committee as he indicated his desire to do so during today’s deposition,” they said in a joint statement. 

“If 8chan comes back online, it will be done when 8chan develops additional tools to counter illegal content under United States law,” Watkins said in the statement released by his lawyer. 

“If 8chan returns, staff would implement a way to restrict certain parts of the website during a state of emergency, in which case any board in question would be put in a read-only mode until it would be deemed safe enough to enable posting again,” it said. 

8chan owner Jim Watkins (YouTube).

Critics last month pressed tech companies to shun 8chan, which in its Twitter profile describes its location as “The Darkest Reaches of the Internet” and has become a hotbed for white extremist content. 

Thompson and Rogers said last month that the shooting deaths of 22 people at an El Paso Walmart store was “at least the third act of supremacist violence linked to your website this year.” 

The El Paso gunman allegedly posted a four-page statement on 8chan before his attack, while the site was also apparently used this year by the shooters who attacked two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, and a synagogue in Poway, California, lawmakers told Watkins in a letter last month. 

Benjamin Barr, a lawyer for Watkins, said in a statement to the committee, that “8chan has never tolerated illegal speech and has a consistent track record of working with law enforcement agencies when appropriate.” 

Watkins said 8chan “has worked responsibly with law enforcement agencies when unprotected speech is discovered on its platform. No single platform can sensibly prevent all hateful, illegal or threatening speech — it can only act in due time to remove it.” 

The company did remove some posts soon after mass shootings in Texas, California and New Zealand, he said. 

But Watkins added, “my company has no intention of deleting constitutionally protected hate speech. I feel the remedy for this type of speech is counter speech, and I’m certain that this is the view of the American justice system.” 

The message board has been voluntarily down since late August. 

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Official: Trump to Challenge California Mileage Standard 

The Trump administration is moving forward with a proposal to revoke part of California’s authority to set its own automobile gas mileage standards, a government official said Thursday, in another confrontation with a state that has repeatedly challenged environmental rollbacks. 
 
The Environmental Protection Agency is preparing paperwork for the White House that would set a single national standard for fuel economy, according to the official, who is familiar with the regulatory process and spoke on condition of anonymity because the plan has not been made public. 
 
President Donald Trump has pushed for months to weaken Obama-era mileage standards nationwide and has targeted California’s decades-old power to set its own mileage standards as part of that effort. 

Court fight
 
Administration moves to rescind authority that Congress granted probably would end up in court. When President George W. Bush challenged California’s mileage-setting ability, California fought it. The Obama administration subsequently dropped the Bush effort. 
 
The Trump plan would have to be posted in the Federal Register and would be subject to public comment. 
 
His administration has tried to ease or remove scores of environmental regulations that it regards as unnecessary and burdensome. The tougher mileage standards were a key part of the Obama administration’s efforts to reduce climate-changing fossil fuel emissions.  

FILE – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra talks to reporters after a news conference at the University of California-Los Angeles, Aug. 2, 2018.

California has sued the Trump administration 27 times on environmental matters alone, often as part of a group of states. Counting preliminary injunctions, California has won in court 19 times, said Sarah Lovenheim, a spokeswoman for California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. 
 
EPA officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday. 
 
The mileage move would target California’s half-century-old authority under the Clean Air Act to set its own, tough tailpipe emission standards. California’s long struggles with smog mean the state has been setting its own mileage standards since before the 1970 law was written. Congress allowed California to seek waivers from the national mileage standards for that reason. 
 
About a dozen states have opted to follow California’s mileage standards 
 
The waiver has allowed California, the state with the most people and by far the biggest economy, to steer the rest of nation toward cutting down on car and truck emissions that pollute the air and alter the climate. 

Auto industry opposed
 
The auto industry as a whole doesn’t like the far tougher Obama-era mileage standards and fears it won’t be able to meet them, as U.S. consumers keep shifting away from sedans to less-efficient trucks and SUVs. Most automakers favor increasing mileage requirements at a lower rate than set under Obama. They also want one U.S. standard to avoid having to engineer separate vehicles for California and the states that follow its rules. 
 
In July four automakers — Ford, Honda, BMW and Volkswagen — broke from the rest of the industry and struck a deal with California agreeing to 3.7 percent increases in mileage per year. That’s less than the 5 percent annual increase under the Obama-era standards. 
 
The side deal has irked Trump, who has chastised Ford in tweets. 

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As Rivals Head to California, Biden Chooses New Hampshire

Joe Biden won’t be among the parade of White House hopefuls in California this week, skipping the Democratic National Committee’s summer meeting to campaign in New Hampshire instead.

The former vice president will have the nation’s first primary state essentially to himself as his top rivals jockey for attention from hundreds of Democratic officials gathered in San Francisco for the party’s last national meeting before presidential voting begins in February.
 
Biden’s choice is partly a reflection of Democrats’ new rules that strip DNC members of their presidential nominating votes on the first 2020 convention ballot. But it’s just as much an indication of Biden’s deliberate front-runner strategy as he continues to lead national and state primary polls: The 76-year-old candidate is choosing carefully when to appear alongside the candidates who are trying to upend him, and he’s keeping a distance, at least publicly, from the party machinery that ultimately proved an albatross to Hillary Clinton in her 2016 loss to Donald Trump.
 
“He has a real commitment to be in the early states,” said Biden’s campaign chairman, Cedric Richmond, pointing to Biden’s recent four-day swing through Iowa, the first caucus state, along with upcoming trips to South Carolina and Nevada and a return to Iowa. “I wouldn’t make any more of the scheduling decision than that.”
 
Indeed, Biden has joined multicandidate “cattle calls” in Iowa; Nevada, the first Western state in the nominating process; and South Carolina, which hosts the South’s first primary.
 
The Biden campaign also isn’t ignoring the DNC. Campaign manager Greg Schultz will be in San Francisco on his boss’s behalf. Yet the national Democratic gathering is a notable absence for the candidate himself, given Biden’s deep connections across the party as a two-term vice president and six-term senator who’s run for president twice before; and Biden aides have noted quietly that they are keenly aware of the criticism Clinton absorbed in 2016 as progressive activists who backed Bernie Sanders accused the DNC of favoritism. Biden’s team doesn’t want a repeat if he’s the nominee.
 
With Biden away, DNC members will hear from, among others, Sanders and his fellow senators Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris, the hometown favorite who served previously as a local prosecutor and California attorney general. Several candidates have scheduled their own events in California beyond the DNC sessions.
 
California will be critical to the nomination after moving up its primary to join a Southern-heavy Super Tuesday lineup next March. The state will have 400 pledged delegates at stake, the largest of any state and about a fifth of the total necessary to win the nomination.
 
Democrats in California criticized Biden’s absence in the spring, but prominent DNC member and Californian Christine Pelosi said it makes sense this time around given the audience.
 
 “We’re not a room of 400 superdelegates anymore,” said Pelosi, a daughter of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “We’re just a room full of activists. … And everyone knows Vice President Biden. This is far more important for candidates who aren’t as well known.”
 
That said, Pelosi noted that party events in California can sometimes draw boisterous crowds of progressives, like the one at the state party convention that jeered as some party moderates warned against veering too far left. And while Biden certainly wouldn’t face a hostile crowd of DNC delegates, there’s plenty of potential for activists or protesters to make their presence known.
 
“Some people can crash and scream,” said Pelosi, who says she will not publicly back a candidate during the nomination process. “That might make for good TV, but it’s not really advancing the cause” or ideal for Biden.
 
There’s also another variable for Biden — and his fellow candidates — to consider: the big money that it takes to compete in California. In New Hampshire and Iowa, voters expect aggressive retail politics and close contact with would-be presidents. That doesn’t work in a state of 40 million residents, with candidates instead forced to spend heavily on traditional television advertising and digital ads to reach voters.
 
 “He will be back to California again,” Richmond said. “And we will have the resources to compete there.”

 

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Michael Bennet Banking on Moderation in Age of Trump

Michael Bennet was about as fired up as he ever gets at the Iowa State Fair’s Political Soapbox, railing against Bernie Sanders’ health care plan — but politely.

“I respect him because he tells the truth about what’s in his plan, but I disagree that that’s gonna get us universal health care in America,” said Bennet, a Colorado senator and decidedly lower tier Democratic presidential candidate.

He prompted boos from the crowd, most of whom were waiting in the heat to see Sanders speak shortly after him, but Bennet wasn’t too fussed. As admirers thronged to the Vermont senator, Bennet went on to tour the fair and hop aboard a few rides with his daughters.

Bennet is pursuing the presidency as the anti-Donald Trump: measured and moderate. Contemplative and competent. With the energy in the Democratic Party radiating from the left and the president so often shouting from the right, Bennet’s journey has been a lonely road.

But he insists he won’t change course.

“If we are forever trapped in a world of instantaneous celebrity that is driven by social media, it may be that I’m not the person for that time,” he said in an interview. “But just like with many other things, I prefer not to think that we’re living in a permanent state of a broken-down political system that won’t deliver on all the promises these candidates are making.”

Bennet’s odds of winning the Democratic presidential nomination are as long as his thoughts are deep.

His new book is his version of an urgent call to arms to restore American democracy and no one’s idea of a bestseller.

And yet, Bennet is tying his candidacy to perhaps the most audacious proposition of all, that voters may actually crave the opposite of the relentlessly turbulent tenure of Trump.

He made that pitch explicit in a tweet, pledging, “If you elect me president, I promise you won’t have to think about me for 2 weeks at a time. I’ll do my job watching out for North Korea and ending this trade war. So you can go raise your kids and live your lives.”

James Carville, a top strategist on both Bill and Hillary Clinton’s early presidential campaigns, is bullish on Bennet because he believes that “the way to beat Trump is to be as profoundly different from Trump as you can be.”

“Just be nice, be calm, get out of everybody’s face,” he said. “If the country is looking for the most unlike Donald Trump person, I think Michael Bennet is that person.”

Carville said he’s spoken to other Democrats who believe Bennet would make the best president out of any candidate in the field. Carville said he would make an even better nominee than Joe Biden because “he’d be new, different, younger and … could project forward.”

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Michael Bennet speaks at the Des Moines Register Soapbox during a visit to the Iowa State Fair, Aug. 11, 2019, in Des Moines, Iowa.

But before Bennet can even be taken seriously as the challenger to Trump, he must emerge from a field of two dozen other Democratic hopefuls, including a cluster that shares some version of his pragmatic approach, such as Montana Gov. Steve Bullock and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar. Many trees must fall before primary voters would see Bennet as their alternative.

He is at his most animated when he is assailing “Medicare for All,” Sanders’ signature policy proposal and one also embraced by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

“I really believe that, better than the other people that are in this field, the agenda that I’m pursuing is an agenda that Democrats in Iowa and South Carolina, New Hampshire and Nevada will recognize themselves in,” he said.

Indeed, some voters in Iowa do see an appeal in Bennet’s calm.

“That’s what I want — someone who’s really steady, and he has a reputation for being really knowledgeable about policy,” said Linda Simonton, a 71-year-old retiree from Des Moines, after seeing Bennet speak at the fair. “He knows what he’s doing. He’s worked in the Senate, he’s worked on immigration, he’s worked across the aisle.”

And the Des Moines Register editorial board praised Bennet after sitting down with him, encouraging caucusgoers to give him “more attention.”

“He offers a much-needed reality check on the promises candidates are offering and what it will take to accomplish meaningful change,” the board wrote.

Bennet is Trump’s opposite even in style. Compared to other candidates who shout or sermonize on the stump, Bennet tends toward monotone that can make his speeches sound like a well-intentioned lecture from someone’s father. On the stump at the state fair, Bennet, who delayed his entrance into the race because he had prostate cancer, even joked to the crowd that they should get their prostates checked.

Asa Leonard, an 18-year-old art student who saw Bennet in Knoxville, Iowa, said he was “charmed” by the senator’s style.

“He’s very much a dad-jokey kind of guy, very nice and calm and open, and a little stern but not aggressively so,” he said.

That style appeals to even some voters who identify as more progressive. Leonard, who said he favors South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg or Sanders to Bennet, said Bennet was “the most compelling person from the moderate policy lineup.”

Audience members wearing “Moms Demand Action” gun reform T-shirts listen to Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Michael Bennet speak at the Presidential Gun Sense Forum, Aug. 10, 2019, in Des Moines, Iowa.

Still, some of Bennet’s supporters are skeptical that he can break through. Phyllis Weeks, a 69-year-old Democratic activist, enthusiastically asked Bennet if he needed donations to get into the next debate because “I think you have some really good things to say.”

Weeks said she liked that he’s a “steady hand” and “has a lot of authority and wisdom,” but said she was skeptical of his chances in the primary.

“I don’t know that Michael Bennet can win the nomination,” she said.

And Simonton, who saw Bennet at the fair and said she likes that he’s a “nice kind of mild-mannered guy,” also admitted “it’s actually my belief” that a more “macho” guy would be more motivating for voters.

“I have to think about who other people would like … like with Steve Bullock, I think, OK, here’s a really good-looking, kind of macho, nice guy, all wrapped up in one, that I think a lot of people would find really appealing,” she said.

Bennet’s heard this kind of thing before. But he doesn’t feel compelled to change his style, or his message, to prove them wrong.  

“I’ve heard people say … are you too nice?” he said. “But I think what they’re really asking is, ‘Are you tough enough for this? And I think I am tough enough for this.'”

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Romney Says Climate Change Happening, Humans Contribute

U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney said Monday that he believes climate change is happening and human activity is a significant contributor.

During a speech at the conservative Sutherland Institute in Salt Lake City, the senator acknowledged that the position is rare among his fellow Republicans, but one that younger people seem to respond to more strongly than older conservatives.

“In some respects, (by speaking with newer conservatives), I’ll be able to make inroads with some of the young people coming along,” he said.

The former GOP presidential nominee has acknowledged climate change before, and said during his 2018 campaign for U.S. Senate in Utah that “climate realities” will make wildfires more common and destructive in the West. His comments Monday took that stance a step further.

Still, Romney said he’s opposed to the Green New Deal economic package intended to fight climate change, calling it “silliness” in part because much of the growth in emissions is coming from developing countries such as India and Brazil rather than the U.S.

The U.S. should instead provide incentivizes for entrepreneurs to develop cleaner energy sources while also helping people who work in industries that could be left behind, such as coal mining, he added.

“I’m not willing to sit by if there are major sectors that are losers … and watch people and communities suffer because of that change,” he said.

Romney discussed the benefits of a carbon tax, a fee based on each ton of carbon dioxide emissions produced by fossil fuels that some major oil companies have adopted. He suggested a portion of the tax revenue could go to coal workers in rural communities that would suffer financially from the move to cleaner power alternatives.

The former Massachusetts governor also criticized “Medicare for All” proposals supported by candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination that would put the government in charge of most health benefits.

Romney said the “deeply discounted” Medicare payments would cripple the revenue of “virtually every hospital in rural America.”

On immigration, Romney said he shared the angst of Democrats over family separations at the U.S.-Mexico border, calling it a “very dark chapter” in the country’s history. He stressed the need for tougher border security and a “merit-based system” of legal immigration, but added that Republicans need to agree on a stance before negotiating immigration policies with Democrats.

The senator has yet to endorse a candidate in the 2020 presidential election but has said that Trump will likely win re-election in 2020 as an incumbent presiding over a strong economy.

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Netanyahu’s Partisan Streak Has Paid Off, But for How Long?

In the eyes of critics, Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to bar two Democratic congresswomen at the request of President Donald Trump is the latest reckless gamble by a prime minister willing to sacrifice Israel’s national interests for short-term gain.

The move infuriated Democrats and risked turning Israel into even more of a partisan issue at a time when Americans are fiercely divided and Trump faces a tough fight for re-election.

And yet the pursuit of such allegedly short-sighted policies has kept Netanyahu and his Likud party in power for more than a decade, making him the longest-serving leader in Israel’s history. The latest move, popular among his right-wing base, comes as he seeks an unprecedented fourth term in next month’s elections.

Israel’s steady, two-decade lurch to the right shows no sign of reversing. Its refusal to accede to international demands for concessions to the Palestinians has not only brought no serious consequences from Washington, but is now being rewarded and encouraged by the White House.

“Since Likud came to power in 1977 and Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982, Israel has lived with dire warnings about the growing rift between American and Israeli Jews, or about the contradiction between Israel’s claims to be a democracy and its undemocratic rule over more than one million Palestinians,” said Nathan Thrall, the head of the Arab-Israeli Project at the Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think tank.

“The sky has not yet fallen.”

Last week Netanyahu barred the entry of Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, newly-elected Muslim congresswomen who have been fierce critics of Trump and of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. Netanyahu said the two were banned over their support of the international boycott movement, but Israel had said as recently as last month that all members of Congress would be welcome.

Instead, the decision seems to have been made in response to Trump, who has sought to make the left-wing congresswomen the face of the Democratic Party as he seeks to fire up his base ahead of the 2020 elections. Trump said he spoke to “people over there” about the visit, without elaborating, and tweeted that it would be a “show of weakness” for Israel to let them in.

In the wake of the decision, Israeli commentators and analysts said Netanyahu had blatantly disregarded a bedrock principle of Israeli foreign policy — that it remain above America’s partisan fray.

“The problem is not with these two members of Congress, or with the boycott movement against Israel, whose achievements are zero,” columnist Nahum Barnea wrote in the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth on Friday.

“The problem is that Israel is losing the Democratic Party, which for years was Israel’s mainstay in the U.S. It is losing its elected officials, and what is much worse, it is losing its voters… Anyone who is opposed to Trump is finding it more and more difficult to support Israel.”

Netanyahu’s critics issued similar laments a decade ago, when he dismissed calls from a popular and newly elected President Barack Obama to freeze the growth of settlements in the occupied territories in order to relaunch peace talks with the Palestinians. Netanyahu had a notoriously prickly relationship with Obama, and was widely seen as siding with Republican Mitt Romney in the 2012 U.S. elections, allegations the prime minister denied. In 2015, Netanyahu drew fire after addressing a joint session of Congress to argue against Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran — an extraordinary breach of U.S. protocol.

But Israel suffered few if any consequences. Obama signed the largest military aid deal ever concluded with Israel — or any other country — in his last year in office. The Obama administration also largely shielded Israel from criticism at the U.N. and other international bodies, even as the peace process went nowhere and settlements continually expanded.

Under Trump, things have only gotten better for Netanyahu. The U.S. has withdrawn from the Iran nuclear deal, recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, recognized the annexation of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and cut aid to the Palestinians — all without calling for a Palestinian state or a suspension of settlement activity.

Those moves proved divisive in the United States — but not in Israel, where polls find Trump is more popular than in his own country.

The partisan alliance between Trump and Netanyahu is “really dangerous in terms of Israeli national interests,” said Gayil Talshir, a political science professor at Hebrew University. “But I don’t think the voters in Israel vote on these kinds of issues.”

The decision to bar Tlaib and Omar could pay further dividends. Netanyahu has spoken of annexing parts of the West Bank, something for which the U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, has expressed support . That would be seen by the Palestinians and much of the international community as yet another major blow to any hopes for a two-state solution, but could give Netanyahu a boost ahead of next month’s elections.

His supporters, meanwhile, say it’s the Israeli media that endangers national interests.

“The same media that enlisted to advance President Obama’s suicidal peace plans and nuclear agreement, and which cast every one of the historic measures that President Donald Trump took in Israel as dangerous, has now committed itself to a nightmarish depiction of the damage that supposedly has been caused to our relations with the Democratic Party,” columnist Eldad Beck wrote Sunday in Israel Hayom, a pro-Netanyahu daily.

Netanyahu’s luck could run out.

He faces a pre-indictment hearing and a series of corruption cases . He has denied any wrongdoing and, like Trump, has accused the media and law enforcement of a witch-hunt. After failing to form a coalition government following April’s elections, Netanyahu dissolved parliament, forcing a repeat vote scheduled for Sept. 17.

There’s also the possibility that Trump might lose re-election, and that the next U.S. president could be one of the many Democrats who criticized the decision to bar the congresswomen. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also criticized it, but she told The Associated Press that the U.S. relationship with Israel can “withstand” Trump and Netanyahu.

“The decreasing support for Israel among progressives is a very slow moving and long term threat,” Thrall said. “It has not yet translated into any changes in policy or even in proposals by Democrats to change policy… So Israel and Netanyahu don’t have much to worry about right now.”

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