Month: March 2017

Blog: Lessons from Trump’s Health-Care Debacle

Blog: Lessons from Trump’s Health-Care Debacle

WASHINGTON, DC – US President Donald Trump’s domestic economic agenda suffered a major setback last week, when the House Republican leadership decided to withdraw their hastily drafted bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA, or “Obamacare”). Given the high-profile effort the president devoted to the issue, the Republican majority’s failure to produce a viable draft was deeply embarrassing.

The key question now is whether Trump will be able to move forward on other items on the Republicans’ economic agenda. And, for three reasons, Trump’s next major policy push – on taxes – is in big trouble.

First, activism matters. Since November, many people have rediscovered that grass-roots political action in the United States – such as well-organized marches, visits to congressional offices, speaking out at town halls, and calling members of Congress – really does makes a difference.

Members of Congress listen, because their jobs depend on it. The entire House of Representatives faces reelection every two years – a term set by the US Constitution to force them to hew close to public opinion. If they don’t, they risk facing serious challengers in party primaries and reelection campaigns.

Likewise, whether the Senate votes to confirm ultra-conservative Neil Gorsuch to the US Supreme Court will depend on how many phone calls Senators receive. Both Democratic and Republican Senators want to sense their constituents’ mood – and there is no better way to get this across than through a phone call.

I am an adviser to a group at MIT that created a website, http://fiftynifty.org, designed to make it easy for Americans to use their social network to mobilize calls to Congress. The response has been very positive: for example, I made two calls myself in recent weeks, but my network has made more than 160 calls. And FiftyNifty itself has accounted for more than 1,200 calls lasting over 31 hours.

The second challenge for Republicans is that political morale changes quickly. The Democrats were defeated and depressed in November. Now they feel united and focused – and with good reason. Until recently, stopping Trump’s health-care proposal, which would have stripped insurance coverage from an estimated 24 million Americans over the next decade, looked tough. But the Republicans’ internal rifts have made it clear to Democrats that, if they stay united, they can put a serious crimp in the Trump agenda and claw back House seats in November 2018.

How many? As of March 1, there were 237 Republicans and 193 Democrats in the House (along with five vacancies). But there are 23 House Republicans who represent districts that voted for Hillary Clinton in November – and many of them look vulnerable today.

For example, Representative Mimi Walters, from California’s 45th District, looks increasingly out of touch with her voters. In committee discussions of Trump’s health-care proposal, she infamously remarked, “Let the games begin,” before supporting the legislation until it was withdrawn. To watch the pressure mount in coming months, follow the twitter feed of Dave Min, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine. The group Swing Left has a helpful website that enables people to find the nearest congressional swing district – the point being to identify where Democrats should focus their attention and donations.

The third major challenge facing Trump is structural. He has pandered to the far right by installing fanatics in top White House posts, including Stephen K. Bannon as chief strategist, Betsy DeVos as education secretary, Scott Pruitt as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, and Rick Perry as energy secretary. These people – and their cabinet colleagues – are using executive actions to pursue an extreme agenda, such as removing environmental protections, which will result in more polluted air and water around the US.

At the same time, Trump realizes that if he embraces legislation preferred by the Freedom Caucus – a bloc comprising the most extreme conservatives in the House, whose members sank the effort to repeal Obamacare – he will lose the political center. In that case, congressional Republicans will suffer significant midterm loses in 2018, and in 2020 Trump will face the prospect of one of the most humiliating defeats ever experienced by a sitting president.

On tax reform, the Freedom Caucus (and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan) primarily wants to cut rates for the rich. Trump wants a broader tax cut, but one that will increase the deficit dramatically – which the Freedom Caucus will have a hard time swallowing, in part because doing so would expose them to primary challenges.

Trump could in principle pick up Democratic support, for example if he adds some infrastructure spending. But why would any Democrat want to assist a president who not only appoints people like Bannon, DeVos, Pruitt, and Perry, but also gives those secretaries free rein to implement damaging and irresponsible policies at home and abroad?

When Trump has been able to act without Congress, his appointments and executive orders have been beyond extreme. On legislation, however, extremism will not work, owing to the need to attract some relatively centrist Republicans in order for it to pass.

In the meantime, the Democrats should make that as difficult as possible and focus squarely on taking back the House next year.

Read the original article by Simon Johnson at Project Syndicate here.

Opinion: CA Dems seek congressional gains

Opinion: CA Dems seek congressional gains

California’s Democratic Party leaders can be confident that their candidates will once again sweep statewide elections next year and retain strong majorities in the Legislature.

They can also hope for more – that a blue state backlash against President Donald Trump’s erratic performance (so far) and a Republican-controlled Congress, keyed to hot-button issues such as immigration and health care, will shrink the California GOP’s already thin congressional ranks – just 14 of 53 seats.

Nationwide, Democrat Hillary Clinton won in 23 Republican-held congressional districts and seven of those were in California, which puts their incumbents in the cross-hairs next year.

Darrell Issa, the combative and controversial Republican congressman from San Diego and Orange counties, is widely regarded as the nation’s most vulnerable GOP incumbent, and he knows it. Once a Trump backer, he is now scrambling to put distance between himself and the president.

As Clinton was winning in Issa’s 49th Congressional District by 7.5 percentage points, Issa barely scraped by Democratic challenger Doug Applegate by 621 votes.

Applegate, a retired Marine Corps attorney, is running again, but he’s got potential baggage. Local media have pointed out Applegate reported having $434,105 in cash as of Nov. 28, but the next report he filed showed $57,697 in cash as of Nov. 29. So far, Applegate hasn’t explained the $376,408 discrepancy.

Three other Orange County Republicans saw their districts opt for Clinton: Ed Royce, Mimi Walters and Dana Rohrabacher. So did suburban Los Angeles Rep. Steve Knight and two members in the San Joaquin Valley, Jeff Denham and David Valadao.

Clinton’s margin in Valadao’s 21st Congressional District was a whopping 15.2 percentage points, and that, coupled with the district’s lopsided Democratic voter registration, puts a target on his back – not for the first time.

Still, all seven survived last year, albeit by sometimes slender margins and despite voter turnout that was relatively high due to its being a high-profile presidential election.

Turnout is expected to be much lower next year because it’s a non-presidential cycle, though probably not as low as the record set in 2014, when there was virtually nothing on the ballot to draw voters.

Paul Mitchell, the state’s top voter data guru, calculates that with lower turnout, “Several contests that looked extremely competitive in the 2016 primary and general would be less so in projected likely voter universes for the coming cycle.”

On average, he says, in vulnerable GOP districts, the incumbents can expect 9 percentage points higher Republican voting in the primary and 3 points in the general election. “If registration gains in the coming 18 months don’t eat into these numbers, they should be safer than they were in 2016.”

In other words, Democratic congressional gains in California are by no means a sure thing though Trump, of course, remains the wild card.

Read the original article here.

LA Times: Democrats out with ads targeting Rep. Mimi Walters

LA Times: Democrats out with ads targeting Rep. Mimi Walters

Republicans didn’t vote on their plan to replace the Affordable Care Act on Friday, but Democrats already have ads out criticizing vulnerable GOP House members like Rep. Mimi Walters of Irvine for backing the bill.

The Internet ads, paid for by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, will target 14 Republicans who voted for the bill in the House Budget, Ways and Means, and Energy and Commerce committees. The ads will run for at least a week on social media sites, including Facebook and Instagram.

“Walters knowingly voted for a bill to raise premiums and deductibles, slap an age tax on older folks, and rip insurance away from 24 million hardworking Americans. It’s critical that voters in California’s 45th District know where Walters stood on this harmful legislation,” DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Luján said in a statement.

Walters, who serves on the Energy and Commerce Committee, was one of the earliest supporters of the bill among the California Republican delegation.

“Rep. Walters is committed to improving and expanding healthcare choices, lowering costs and protecting taxpayers. Her votes in the House reflect those principles and she will not be deterred by campaign ads created in Washington, D.C., by Nancy Pelosi’s political committees,” said her campaign consultant, Dave Gilliard.

The DCCC has already announced plans to target Republican representatives of the seven California congressional districts that backed Hillary Clinton for president.

Clinton won Walters’ Orange County district by 5 percentage points. Walters was elected for a second term with 58.6% of the vote.

Read the original article here.

Sacramento Bee: Vulnerable California Republicans like Darrell Issa seek distance from Trump

Sacramento Bee: Vulnerable California Republicans like Darrell Issa seek distance from Trump

California Republican Rep. Darrell Issa stood before a jeering crowd at a town hall in Oceanside, Calif. and insisted that he’s not an acolyte of President Donald Trump.

“My public statements are clearly out of step with many other Republicans,” Issa said at the meeting this month streamed live on his Facebook page. “I will continue to push my colleagues one by one in public and private to realize (Russian election interference) is an existential threat to democracy.”

Issa built a reputation in Washington as a partisan pit bull, launching investigations of President Barack Obama. It’s a reputation he is now eager to shed after struggling to win election in a district that favored Democrat Hillary Clinton over Trump by more than 7 percentage points.

Issa and other coastal California Republicans in Congress are increasingly distancing themselves from Trump, who is enormously unpopular in the state and a threat to their chances of being re-elected.

While Democrats fret over how to win over Rust Belt voters who backed Donald Trump, their chance to win the 24 seats they need to win a majority in the U.S. House in next year’s midterm election depends on unseating California Republicans like Issa.

There are 23 Republican congressional districts nationwide that voted for Clinton and four of them touch Orange County.

Issa, who represents a stretch of sunshine, sand and smoothies north of San Diego into Orange County, is a top target of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. So are Orange County Republican Reps. Ed Royce, Mimi Walters and Dana Rohrabacher, all of whom also represent districts that voted for Clinton in November.

The Democratic Party has already hired staffers in Issa and Royce’s districts to coordinate with the anti-Trump group Indivisible and to train organizers to lay the groundwork for a challenge of the veteran congressmen.

Trump was the first Republican to lose Orange County in a presidential election since 1936. Once home to President Richard Nixon’s Western White House, it is the most prominent Republican county in the nation to flip to Clinton and a sign of slipping GOP control of rich suburbs.

The demographics of Orange County are shifting, with growing numbers of minority voters, particularly Latinos. The area is also home to higher educated voters, particularly women, who exit polls showed did not embrace Trump’s populism so much as other Republicans.

“Democrats are much more likely to gain ground in places like Orange County, California than in some of the districts that they used to hold in working class areas. Clearly Democrats’ route to the majority runs through wealthy suburbs,” said David Wasserman, who analyzes U.S. House races for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.

Wasserman said the four Orange County seats represents one-sixth of the seats the Democrats need to win control of the House and are more realistic for the party to target than working class areas in the Midwest or southern states that are deeply Republican.

“So the Democrats would need those seats,” he said.

Issa was an early embracer of Trump during the presidential campaign. Now he’s a lonely Republican voice calling for an independent investigation of ties between Trump associates and Russia.

He’s criticizing Trump’s proposed cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency and efforts to defund Planned Parenthood – even though he’s amassed vote ratings of just 4 percent and zero respectively from the League of Conservation Voters and Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

While Trump called global warming a “Chinese hoax,” Issa this month joined the Climate Solutions Caucus, a group in Congress formed to address solutions to climate change.

Issa is arguably Congress’ most vulnerable incumbent, having won re-election by 0.6 percent.

“Last November was a wake-up call. He now understands that he has to work for it,” said Dan Schnur, who teaches political communications at the University of Southern California and was communications director for John McCain’s 2000 presidential campaign.

Issa, who declined requests for an interview, emphasizes his independence and told the largely hostile town hall crowd in Oceanside this month that “I do not work for the executive branch.”

All four of the Republicans who represent parts of Orange County – Issa, Royce, Walters and Rohrabacher – have become major targets of the anti-Trump group Indivisible, with repeated protests outside of their offices.

Democrats have struggled in the past to recruit good Orange County candidates and get them the money needed to compete. It remains to be seen if Democrats can make inroads against an entrenched incumbent like Royce, even as they drool over the fact that his congressional district favored Clinton by nearly nine percentage points over Trump.

Royce, in the meantime, is beginning to create distance between himself and Trump.

Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, broke with other Republicans to criticize Trump’s budget proposal, declaring himself “very concerned that deep cuts to our diplomacy will hurt efforts to combat terrorism, distribute critical humanitarian aid, and promote opportunities for American workers.”

He condemned Trump’s tweet threatening the withdrawal of federal funds to the University of California-Berkeley after violent protests over a planned speech by conservative provocateur Milo Yiannopolous.

Both he and Walters joined the Democrats in calling for Trump Attorney General Jeff Sessions to recuse himself into the Justice Department investigations of Trump and Russia.

Rohrabacher is pushing back against the White House threat to crack down on California and other states that legalized recreational marijuana. Rohrabacher, though, disputes the notion that he and the other Orange County Republicans are vulnerable to an anti-Trump backlash.

“I don’t think the Democrats have a rat’s chance in hell to take over the House next time,” Rohrabacher said.

Rohrabacher might have reason for confidence after cruising to re-election in November with 58 percent of the vote. But Democrats are hoping that Rohrabacher, who has been called “(Russian leader Vladimir) Putin’s favorite congressman” is vulnerable on his outspoken support of Russia at the time of investigations into the Kremlin’s meddling into U.S. politics.

Rohrabacher has already attracted two Democratic challengers for next year’s election.

One of them, businessman Harley Rouda, has a new online ad that highlights Rohrabacher telling a Yahoo News anchor in December that the idea of Russian human rights abuses is “baloney.”

Schnur said that if not for Trump, though, he thinks all the Orange County Republicans would have safe seats.

But, while he said Walters and Royce in particular are good at working their districts and would still be difficult to unseat, they’re going to have to deal with the fact that even the Republican base in California contains a lot of voters who don’t like Trump.

“They’re now facing a much more complicated electorate,” he said. “It’s a challenging landscape.”

Read the original article here.

Yahoo News: In the age of Trump, can Democrats turn Orange County blue? Their first target is Darrell Issa

Yahoo News: In the age of Trump, can Democrats turn Orange County blue? Their first target is Darrell Issa

Democrats and Republicans don’t agree on much these days. But they do agree on one thing: Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., is in danger.

Since 2001, Issa has represented the coastal suburbs of northern San Diego and southern Orange counties. Reliably conservative, California’s 49th congressional district has never really been much of an electoral battleground. Issa won his first House election by 33 percentage points, and for the next 16 years, no challenger ever came within 15 points of unseating him.

Until 2016, that is.

Last November, Issa squared off against the most serious opponent of his career: retired Marine Col. Doug Applegate. To everyone’s surprise, the Democratic rookie nearly won, finishing a mere 1,621 votes — 0.6 percentage points — behind his entrenched Republican rival. Meanwhile, California as a whole voted for Hillary Clinton by nearly 30 percentage points, and Issa’s district went for Clinton, too (by nearly 9 points).

Today, only 23 other GOP members represent districts that Clinton won; of them, Issa was reelected by the slimmest margin. This makes him, as the New York Times recently put it, “the nation’s most vulnerable incumbent.”

Issa already positioning himself for a close contest in 2018. Famous for what Mother Jones has called “his high-theater, low-yield investigations into alleged Democratic scandals involving Benghazi, the IRS, the gun sting gone awry known as Operation Fast and Furious, and Healthcare.gov, among others,” Issa has been trying to project a more bipartisan air since his near-death experience last November. He proposed one of the GOP’s first concrete Obamacare replacement plans. He backed the idea of an independent investigation into President Trump’s ties to Russia days before Attorney Gen. Jeff Sessions recused himself from the case. Last week, despite a long history of climate-science skepticism, he even joined the House’s Climate Solutions Caucus. And while Issa has yet to hold a formal town hall with his constituents, he did buck the trend among his fellow Republicans during last week’s recess and spent 90 impromptu minutes talking to protesters outside his Vista office.

Both the Democratic Party and the GOP have taken note. In January, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee named Issa as one of its top targets in 2018; a few weeks later, the National Republican Congressional Committee added him to its 10-member Patriot Program, a special fundraising and campaign operation that helps endangered incumbents keep their seats.

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Even at this early stage, then, it’s clear that Issa’s re-election battle — likely to be against Applegate, who immediately announced that he wanted a rematch — is shaping up as one of the most fascinating races of 2018.

But ultimately, the most fascinating thing about it may be the fact that Issa isn’t alone. There are actually four House Republicans whose districts overlap with Orange County — and all of them rank among the top 25 most vulnerable Republicans in the country.

For any student of American political history, this should come as something of a shock. In the 1960s, Orange County was the heart of the conservative movement, fueling the campaigns of Barry Goldwater and, later, Ronald Reagan. Jerome Himmelstein, author of “To the Right: The Transformation of American Conservatism,” once called it “the most important place in the country, if you’re looking at the long-term rise of the right.”

Only four Democrats have carried Orange County in a statewide race in the last 50 years, defying California’s increasingly leftward tilt, and the county voted for the GOP candidate in every presidential election from 1936 to 2012, when Mitt Romney defeated Barack Obama locally by 6 percentage points.

But then came 2016 — and with it, a 15-point shift toward Clinton. The hope among Dems is that the forces behind that sudden leftward lurch will trickle down to the congressional level in time for 2018, and that the challenges Issa faces today will become the challenges his O.C. colleagues Dana Rohrabacher, Mimi Walters and Ed Royce — along with other suburban Republicans nationwide — face tomorrow.

“These areas are going to be much more contested than ever before,” says Dan Schnur, a former spokesman for the Republicans Gov. Pete Wilson and Sen. John McCain, who currently runs the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California. “Orange County is no longer an ideologically safe space for Republicans.”

So what are the forces pushing Orange County (and other similar suburban areas) to the left — and do Democrats actually have a chance of capitalizing on them in 2018 (or beyond)?

The first factor is demographics. In 1980, roughly 285,000 Latinos lived in Orange County (about 15 percent of the total population). As of 2014, that number had grown to more than 1 million (or 34 percent of the total population). Today, some central Orange County cities, such as Santa Ana, are almost entirely Latino, and Latinos are expected to surpass non-Latino whites as the county’s largest group by 2027.

In recent years, the local Asian population has surged as well. The result is a region that’s much more diverse — and much more reliant on immigrants — than it was in Ronald Reagan’s day.

At the same time, the white voters who still make up a plurality of Orange County’s electorate are, for the most part, a particular breed: wealthier and more educated than average. Nationwide, only about 5 percent of American households make more than $150,000 a year; in Orange County, that number is 20 percent. And while 59 percent of Americans have completed some college or more, in the O.C., the number is 67 percent. If you could isolate the county’s non-Latino whites, who tend to cluster in its upscale coastal enclaves, these percentages would almost certainly be higher.

Which brings us to the second force at work here: Donald Trump. In the mid-1990s, registered Republicans outnumbered Democrats in Orange County by 52 percent to 32 percent. But since then, droves of former O.C. Republicans have defected to the “no party preference” category, shrinking the GOP’s share of the electorate to about 38 percent — only 4 percentage points more than the Democrats’.

These largely white, largely affluent, largely college-educated and largely suburban voters used to be a source of strength for Republicans. But in 2016, Trump underperformed among white college graduates, and even lost college women to Clinton by 7 percentage points. Combine that weakness with Trump’s widespread unpopularity among Latinos and other minorities, and you start to see why Orange County flipped to Clinton: Trump was a particularly bad fit for its evolving electorate.

“Our wealthier enclaves didn’t vote in as high a margin for the Republican candidate as they have in the past,” admits Orange County GOP Chairman Fred Whitaker. “Meanwhile, the Latino demographic hasn’t been with us lately, and the Asian vote wasn’t as strong. Some of that had to do with Trump. He just didn’t resonate.”

“Donald Trump achieved tremendous success with white working-class voters last year, but he didn’t get those voters for free,” adds Schnur. “In order to win over all those NASCAR dads, he had to trade away a lot soccer moms.”

This presents Democrats with an opportunity. Issa was an early and vocal Trump supporter; Rohrabacher even more so, especially on issues relating to Russia. (Rohrabacher was once described as “Vladimir Putin’s favorite congressman,” and Issa, perhaps the richest member of Congress, has been called the “House Mini-Trump.”) If the president’s standing among Latinos and white college grads continues to suffer — the most recent Pew Research poll pegged Trump’s approval rating with the latter group at a paltry 38 percent, with 61 percent disapproving — then Issa & Co. could suffer as well, at least in theory.

The same goes for their colleagues in similar suburban areas. As the New York Times has noted, “the most vulnerable Republican incumbents among the 50 or so most competitive seats tend to be in relatively well-educated, metropolitan districts with above-average Hispanic populations.”

For their part, Orange County Republicans are skeptical.

“I love the DCCC’s target list,” says Whitaker. “It’s a hoot. All four of our House Republicans won in a year that was a bad year for us, locally, in the presidential election. They all won by strong margins, except for Issa. Mimi won by 17 points. So did Ed. They all have permanent campaign headquarters and significant funds on hand. And don’t forget that 2018 is an off-year, when Democratic turnout tends to drop, and Republicans tend to do better.”

“I love it,” Whitaker adds, laughing. “Come out here and waste your money.”

Whitaker has a point. But as Issa learned in 2016, the tide can quickly turn in a changing district; expectations can be upended.

Right now, progressives throughout Orange County seem energized. They’re flooding the phone lines, protesting outside offices, demanding town halls — and even hosting their own. The anti-Trump project Indivisible has a strong presence in the area — so much so that UC Irvine sociologist David Meyer, author of “The Politics of Protest: Social Movements in America,” recently predicted that “Orange County is really the front line … where the future of ‘#resistance’ is going to be written.”

But come Election Day, you can’t beat something with nothing, and neither Royce, Walters nor Rohrabacher has faced a serious challenge in recent years. So the true test for Democrats will be recruitment — both in California and elsewhere.

A military man, Applegate proved in 2016 that he’s a solid match for a region that’s home to Camp Pendleton. “Demographics have changed in the 49th,” he has said. “I knew this was a Marine district. I knew one thing the Democrats never have tried is to run a Marine. And I know that in the military, if you say anything that’s racist or misogynistic, 9 out of 10 times you’ll be disciplined for it.”

There are some early signs that other Democrats may follow Applegate’s lead. Last week, for instance, Laguna Beach businessman Harley Rouda became the second Democrat to announce that he would be challenging Rohrabacher in 2018. “We need new leadership that is willing to put country over party, and put service above self,” Rouda, 55, said in a statement.

As the founder of the national real estate company Real Living — and with a fundraising veteran of Hillary for America on his team — Rouda has at least a chance of competing with the deep-pocketed incumbent. And a Democratic source familiar with the congressional landscape tells Yahoo News to expect more candidates to come forward in the months ahead.

“There is definitely buzz in these districts,” the source says. “We feel we’re going to get great candidates.”

Whether Applegate, Rouda or others like them can actually help turn Orange County blue will depend on the campaigns they run. But Democratic upsets are increasingly possible in the county. Last year, no one thought Josh Newman, a 52-year-old Yale graduate, Army veteran and former wine bar proprietor, would be able to defeat a sitting GOP assemblywoman, Ling Ling Chang of Diamond Bar, in California’s traditionally Republican 29th state Senate district. But the first-time candidate ran a witty race — his Seinfeld-esque lawn signs read “Hello, Newman” — and now he’s a state senator.

“In Orange County, party label isn’t good enough any more,” says Schnur. “Issa in particular is not going to be able to take his re-election for granted, like he did in a pre-Trump landscape. Now he’s got to work for it — and his fellow O.C. Republicans may not be far behind.”

Read the original article here.

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