Democrats have control of the House for the first time in eight years. Now, they have a mandate to push for a bold agenda on infrastructure, healthcare, immigration, and voting rights.
After months of warnings, the "Blue Wave" finally came to shore. Democrats took back control of the House, gaining 32 seats, a number that could increase to 38 or 39, depending on the results of the uncalled races. With the party back in charge of the lower chamber, much of the discussion around what their priorities should be has revolved around investigating the president and his myriad of financial and political scandals. House Democrats have a clear mandate to fulfill their constitutional duty to provide oversight of the White House, but Democrats also have a mandate to address a number of major legislative issues. Though it's unlikely Democrats that will get any of these priorities pushed before the president and a Republican Senate, it's crucial that they signal to their voters what they want to done should they win the presidency and the Senate in the future.
As a candidate and in the beginning of his presidency, Donald Trump promised to tackle the nation's crumbling infrastructure. That, of course, has gone nowhere and every "Infrastructure Week" ended in some scandal, quickly becoming an ongoing joke. But the state of America's infrastructure is nothing to joke about. Infrastructure spending has long been a Democratic Party priority before Trump attempted to co-opt it. Democrats should push that issue once again, proposing a bold infrastructure plan to repair crumbling roads and bridges, modernize public transportation systems, expand access to high-speed, fiber-optic Internet, and invest in green energy projects like wind, solar, and hydroelectric power.
Such an infrastructure plan would signal the party's commitment to investing in neglected communities and funding renewable energy projects such as a broader plan to combat climate change—not to mention open the door to the many economic benefits of infrastructure spending. It would also establish a clear contrast with Trump's previous infrastructure plan that's been criticized as a giveaway to private contractors. The president has said he is willing to work with Democrats, so why not press him to keep his word? Democrats would be wise to pressure the president and his Republican supporters to prioritize infrastructure, or face political consequences.
No other issue played a bigger role in the Democrats' midterm success than healthcare. Their electoral message on healthcare was simple: Protect people with pre-existing conditions, expand coverage and stop proposed cuts to Medicare and Medicaid. Now they must deliver on these promises. House Democrats can immediately pass legislation to protect coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, pressuring Trump and other Republicans who have vowed to do the same to keep their word. With a full repeal of the Affordable Care act now temporarily off the table, Democrats should push to expand coverage and address the limitations of the ACA. These can range from introducing incremental policies that get support from more moderate Democrats, like legislation to stabilize insurance markets, to bolder policies that attract the progressive wing of the party, like allowing Medicare more power to negotiate drug prices and proposing a Medicare buy-in for 55 to 64-year-olds.
While the long-term goal for the party should be to push for a Medicare for All system, these are positive steps toward a goal that still has a lot of opposition from within the party. Finally, any budget proposed by House Democrats should reverse any funding cuts to Medicare and Medicaid. Democrats have an ideal opportunity to push for a positive vision on healthcare and continue to have the upper hand on the issue heading into 2020.
Bitter political battles over immigration, especially over funding for the border wall and the fate of DACA, will be a prominent feature of politics the next two years. Democrats are right to be alarmed over the administration's immigration policies like family separation and ending DACA, but now it's crucial they advocate for an immigration agenda in contrast to the Republican agenda. With the fate of DACA likely in the hands of the Supreme Court, Democrats must push for a long-term legislative solution. The most stable solution is the passage of the Dream Act. It would also be politically beneficial for the Democrats to bring it to the floor cleanly, without a compromise on funding for the wall. Furthermore, Democrats should schedule hearings about the family separation policy and Trump's pre-election decision to bring troops to the southern border in response to the migrant caravan. Democratic voters have become more liberal on immigration, and it's important the party signal to its base that they are willing to find solutions on the issue without compromising its core values.
Much of the post-election analysis has focused on the effects of voter suppression, notably in Georgia, North Dakota, and Florida. These voter suppression efforts have only increased since the Supreme Court struck down the section of the Voting Rights Act, which required states with a history of racial discrimination to get permission from the Department of Justice when enacting any changes in voting laws. In response, states around the country immediately passed strict voter ID laws. Fortunately, the Supreme Court decision left the door open for future legislative action. House Democrats can immediately take action and strengthen the Voting Rights Act. They would also be wise to propose legislation to make Election Day a federal holiday, or move Election Day to a Sunday, as it is in most places around the world. While Republicans are busy spreading conspiracy theories about voter fraud, Democrats should take the opposite path and make it clear they will fight continuing discrimination in voting. For strategic and moral purposes, the party has an obligation to extend democracy in every way when voting rights are under tremendous pressure.
Dan is a writer, thinker and occasional optimist in this random, chaotic world. You can follow him on Twitter @danescalona77.
Rick Scott and President Trump baselessly claim a conspiracy by Hillary Clinton's lawyers.
Tensions are rising in Florida as Sen. Bill Nelson's re-election bid is likely headed for a hand recount. The incumbent Democrat now trails Florida Gov. Rick Scott by just 17,000 votes, easily within the .25% margin required for a hand recount. On November 6th, it looked as though Scott had won a narrow victory over Nelson, but untallied ballots have since trickled in from traditionally blue Broward and Palm Beach counties and called the election results into question.
Of course, Republicans have found a way to blame this new development on Hillary Clinton, claiming that her lawyers are involved in a far reaching conspiracy to claim Florida's senate seat for the Democrats. Rick Scott held a news conference Thursday evening calling for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate the validity of the ballots in Broward and Palm Beach counties, and claimed he filed a lawsuit against top election officials in each county.
"I will not sit idly by while unethical liberals try to steal this election from the great people of Florida," Scott said. "Their goal is to keep mysteriously finding votes until the election turns out the way they want... left-wing activists have been coming up with more and more ballots out of nowhere."
Despite this strong rhetoric, Scott presented no evidence that anything unlawful actually occurred. Characteristically, President Trump soon weighed in with a tweet:
Then, Trump's personal attorney, Rudy Giulliani contributed his thoughts on the matter:
On Friday, Trump told reporters during a news conference that Fusion GPS plotted to steal the election in Florida. "Then you see the people, and they were involved with that fraud of the fake dossier, the phony dossier, and I guess I hear they were somehow involved or worked with the GPS Fusion [sic] people, who have committed — I mean you look at what they done, you look at the dishonesty," Trump went on to say, "Look, look — there's bad things have gone on in Broward County, really bad things ... I say this — [Scott] easily won, but every hour it seems to be going down. I think people have to look at it very very cautiously."
A member of Bill Nelson's team, Dan McLaughlin, said in an official statement that "the goal here is to see that all the votes in Florida are counted and counted accurately," going on to say that Scott's call for a criminal investigation "appears to be politically motivated and borne out of desperation."
Indeed, there's no valid legal claim that votes cast in a county that counts votes more slowly shouldn't be counted, and no evidence whatsoever that the issues with vote tabulation in Broward and Palm Beach counties are in any way due to Democrat interference.
Dennis Hof won his bid for Nevada Assembly District 36 last night, despite having died three weeks ago.
Midterm elections are often considered a referendum on a sitting administration's progress—a collective report card graded by the people. Early numbers from this year's elections suggest a substantial and possibly record increase in voter turnout, which has been historically low in non-presidential voting years. It's not surprising, given the turbulent political climate, that candidates from both parties continued to campaign at full speed up until the final hours. Yet despite an election cycle that saw blatantly racist attack ads, felony accusations, and threats of violence, the one surefire road to victory has been apparent for years: death.
Outlandish as it may seem, at least nine dead people have been elected to public office since 1962—six in the last 20 years alone. The latest, Dennis Hof, whose body was discovered last month after the legal brothel owner had celebrated at a campaign-and-birthday party, claimed victory in Nevada last night. Prior to his death, the 72-year-old had been celebrating with friends Heidi Fleiss, Ron Jeremy, and Joe Arpaio.
Ballots Beyond the Grave: Deceased People Who Have Won Elections
Rep. Clement Miller (CA, 1962; airplane accident)
Reps. Nick Begich (AK) and Hale Boggs (LA, 1972; airplane accident)
Gov. Mel Carnahan (MO, 2000; plane crash)
Rep. Patsy Mink (HI, 2002; viral pneumonia)
Sen. James Rhoades (PENN, 2008; car accident)
Sen. Jenny Oropeza (CA, 2010; cancer)
Sen. Mario Gallegos (TX, 2012; liver disease)
Dennis Hof (NV, 2018; cause of death not yet reported)
The Nevada Independent
Hof ran for office as a self-proclaimed "Trump Republican" and stated that the president's 2016 win ignited his own desire for a career in politics. Similarities between the two run deep. Hof gained fame as a reality star on the long-running HBO documentary series Cathouse, which captured life at the Moonlite Bunny Ranch, one of several legal brothels owned and operated by Hof. In 2015, he published a memoir titled "The Art of the Pimp," a clear homage to Trump's "The Art of the Deal." In it, Hof included a psychological profile by psychotherapist Dr. Sheenah Hankin, which categorizes Hof as a sadist and a narcissist who abused the sex workers he employed.
Among the issues he championed were immigration reform, a repeal of Nevada's 2015 Commerce Tax, and a campus carry law that would allow concealed-carry permit holders to bring their weapons onto Nevada college and university campuses. He was endorsed by Roger Stone and Grover Norquist. In the 2018 primary elections, Hof beat incumbent James Oscarson by a mere 432 votes. Because he died within 60 days of the upcoming election, Hof remained on the ballot, though signs were posted at polling sites notifying voters of his death.
It seems as though these issues matter more than electing a living person to citizens of the 36th Assembly District. In fact, a 2013 study by Vanderbilt University found that, in lower-level elections, voters are most likely to elect the candidate with the highest name recognition.
The 36th Assembly District, which spans Clark, Lincoln, and Nye counties, has long been a GOP stronghold. Hof defeated Democrat Lesia Romanov, a first-time (living, breathing) candidate and lifetime educator who works as assistant principal of an elementary school for at-risk children. Romanov was impelled to run for office by a desire for common-sense gun reform following the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida. Yet, too many of her constituents, upon discovering she was running against Hof, she became a de facto advocate for women, including "survivors of sex trafficking and exploited and abused brothel workers," according to NBC News. Romanov was among many women running for office in hopes of making Nevada's legislature the first to hold a female majority in the country.
As The Washington Post reported in 2014, there hasn't been an election with a dead person on the ballot in which the dead person lost. It's hard to determine what's more damning for American democracy: that voters are so divided that they're more likely to vote for a dead person than cross party lines or that they've been voting that way for years. At the same time, one might argue that giving Hof's seat to a living Republican (as appointed by county officials, according to state law) is a better outcome than if it'd gone to Hof himself, considering his history of sexual abuse allegations. The most preposterous indictment of the American political system is that although deceased candidates have been elected before, now the electorate could seemingly ask itself—in all seriousness—whether a dead serial abuser makes a better candidate than a living one. And no one seems to know the answer.
From voting rights and gerrymandering to marijuana legalization and healthcare, many consequential issues are on the ballot. Here are some major ballot measures to watch on Election Day.
This Election Day, most eyes will be on the battle for control of the House and Senate and the many contentious gubernatorial elections. But lower on the ballot there are many progressive policies at stake. These range from voting rights and gerrymandering to marijuana legalization and healthcare. Many of these policies are as consequential as which party controls Congress and worth following closely on Tuesday.
Amendment 4, Florida
There are currently 1.6 million Floridians that can't vote because of previous felony convictions. Amendment 4 could change all of that, automatically restoring the voting rights for those who have finished their sentences. Florida remains one of four states that doesn't automatically restore the voting rights for the formerly incarcerated. It has the highest voter disenfranchisement rate in the country, and nearly 10 percent of eligible voters can't vote. Felony disenfranchisement disproportionately impacts black Floridians, which is unsurprising given its racist history.
As an amendment to the Florida Constitution, it needs at least 60 percent to pass. But a September poll showed it passing with 71 percent. In a state long known for close, contentious elections, its passage has major implications for 2020 and the political future for the state and the nation. Above all, Amendment 4 is about basic fairness and fully accepting felons back into society. It's completely undemocratic that one of the most populous states in the country still doesn't allow those who have paid their debt to society to exercise their constitutional rights.
The Southern Coalition for Social Justice
Medicaid Expansion in Montana, Idaho, Utah and Nebraska
Voters in four red states are voting to expand Medicaid on Tuesday; these are four of the 18 states that have yet to do so. The Supreme Court ruled the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) Medicaid expansion was optional for state governments, and the expansion has faced obstacles in Republican states. If passed, these referendums would expand benefits to people 138% below the poverty line — meaning thousands of low income people would gain access to the program.
That four Republican strongholds may likely expand a key part of the ACA speaks to the broader popularity of progressive policies. It further shows the GOP's weakness on healthcare and the disapproval of the Republican message on the issue. Finally, it indicates that a progressive message on healthcare can make Democrats more competitive in red states.
Recreational Marijuana Legalization in Michigan and North Dakota
The continued growth of marijuana legalization across the country might take its next step on election day. Voters in Michigan and North Dakota can become the latest states with legal marijuana. Both referendums would legalize the recreational use and sale of marijuana for anyone 21 and older. But what sets the referendum in North Dakota apart from the one in Michigan is that it would automatically expunge all marijuana convictions.
The legalization of recreational marijuana is following the similar path of marriage equality, which was once a deeply unpopular issue that gradually expanded across the states before becoming legal nationwide. Should one or both be approved, it would signal a greater consensus on legal marijuana. It would further pressure Democrats to adopt it as a campaign issue going forward, in addition to pushing the federal government to reconsider its harsh stance on legalization. North Dakota's referendum is of particular interest as a barometer for the salience of legalization in conservative states, as well as establishing a model for future efforts in other states that address expungement.
University of Missouri-Kansas City
Independent Redistricting in Colorado, Michigan, Missouri and Utah
Partisan gerrymandering is high on the list of the most undemocratic practices in the American political system. If Democrats win the popular votes in the House but fail to win a majority, many say gerrymandering could be to blame. Just this year the Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down the state's congressional map as being unfairly drawn by the Republican legislature. Redistricting is typically the responsibility of state legislatures, and the party in power usually draws congressional and state legislative maps to their political advantage.
But ballot measures in four states could change that. Proposed measures could put the responsibility of redistricting in the hands of an independent, nonpartisan commission rather than legislatures. These referendums would signal the real beginnings of a movement to chip away at the scourge of partisan gerrymandering and radically change the way redistricting is done. Independent redistricting commissions could create congressional and legislative maps that are more equally representative of voters. The establishment of independent redistricting is likely to have a major impact on the redrawing of congressional districts following the Census in 2020.
Proposition 10, California
You won't hear much about it in national politics, but housing is a hugely contentious issue in local politics, pitting tenants against landlords and property developers. After all, ask any renter in a major city, and the lack of affordable housing is a major source of stress and frustration. Nowhere is the affordable housing crisis more pronounced than in California — the state with the highest rents in the country. But on the ballot in California this Election Day is a measure that may offer a solution to the state's affordable housing crisis.Proposition 10 asks voters to repeal a California law that prohibits any municipality from instituting rent control. This is the first statewide effort anywhere in the country to address affordable housing. Rent control has always been controversial in cities nationwide, but there is evidence that rent control can be an effective tool in lowering cost of living. The opposition to Prop 10 has been fierce, as tens of millions of dollars have poured into the campaign from both landlord and developer groups. Though polls show the measure likely failing, its presence on the ballot reveals the rising potency of housing as an issue in state, local, and, soon enough national politics.
Dan is a writer, thinker and occasional optimist in this random, chaotic world. You can follow him on Twitter @danescalona77.
Trump has expressed his intention to repeal the 14th amendment.
President Trump's latest attack on immigration targets the children of undocumented persons by threatening to nullify the writ of birthright citizenship, also known as the 14th Amendment. Legislatively, this is nearly impossible and unheard of; but, most damningly, its patent ridiculousness is alienating both sides of the aisle.
While fatuous celebrity rants may err in understanding constitutional law, as was the case of Kanye West's Twitter fodder to "abolish" the 13th Amendment, a United States President's defective understanding of the constitution is as alarming as it is shameful.
But on Wednesday Trump once again aimed his tweets directly at his blind spot for facts, underscoring that he's impenetrable to shame. He claimed that "so-called Birthright Citizenship...is very unfair to our citizens. It is not covered by the 14th Amendment because of the words 'subject to the jurisdiction thereof."
The tweet was precipitated by an interview with Axios on HBO, which was released on Tuesday. Trump evinced his ignorance on constitutional law by stating, "It was always told to me that you needed a constitutional amendment. Guess what? You don't." Convinced, he added, "You can definitely do it with an act of Congress. But now they're saying I can do it just with an executive order."
No, of course he can't. In brief, the U.S. policy of jus soli dictates that an individual has a right to citizenship in the country he/she is born. This "Citizenship Clause" is codified in the 14th Amendment, which reads, "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside." Depending on your interpretation of the constitution, no matter if you see it as elastic or fixed, legal precedent set by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1898 has upheld the Citizenship Clause as we know it.
Trump went on to misattribute the "law of soil" as a singularly American mistake, stating, "We're the only country in the world where a person comes in, has a baby, and the baby is essentially a citizen of the United States for 85 years with all of those benefits." That's incorrect; over 30 other nations recognize birthright citizenship. "It's ridiculous. It's ridiculous. And it has to end," Trump went on.
Of course, rudimentary awareness of American history reminds us that constitutional amendments are complex pieces of legislation which are subject to checks and balances. If President Trump truly believes he can solely command an amendment change, House Speaker Paul Ryan clarified in a radio interview that he "obviously cannot do that." In fact, Ryan spoke on behalf of all conservatives as fully dissenting from Trump's views.
"You obviously cannot do that. You cannot end birthright citizenship with an executive order. We didn't like it when Obama tried changing immigration laws via executive action, and obviously as conservatives, we believe in the Constitution," Ryan told WVLK radio. "I'm a believer in following the plain text of the Constitution, and I think in this case, the 14th Amendment's pretty clear, and that would involve a very, very lengthy Constitutional process." Ryan added, "I believe in interpreting the Constitution as its written."
With midterm elections approaching, Trump's turgid misrepresentations of immigration law can only be in hopes of rallying votes from anti-immigration supporters and encouraging strife between republicans and democrats. Dem. Sen. of Virginia, Mark Warner said, "This is simply an attempt for Donald Trump, who wants to do anything possible to bring back fears around immigration, to use that as a political tool in this last week before the election."
He adds, tellingly, "This is again, where a President's words matter. The Constitution is quite clear that no one, including the President of the United States, is above the law."
Indeed, the President's stream of inflammatory rhetoric only serves as a distraction from his unfulfilled promises and his administration's failings. For instance, two new studies reported by The New York Times indicate growing anti-Trump sentiments in the top GOP district, suggesting that voters are alienated by "endless lies and hate-mongering." Greg Sargent at The Washington Post adds, "One likely answer is that the story Trump has told about the economy - and the country - just isn't resonating in many of these districts."
That Trump took to Twitter to repudiate Paul Ryan's reality check is par for the course, as was his ad hominem attack questioning Ryan's credentials to comment on birthright citizenship.
"This caravan cannot come to the United States. They will not be allowed in," said Department of Homeland Security Department Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.
Thousands of asylum-seeking migrants are making their way towards the U.S.-Mexico border, and President Trump wants to stop them.
The administration is looking at ways to crack down on border crossings as a means to rally his political base ahead of the midterm elections, specifically taking aim at the controversial migrant caravan that left Honduras on October 12th.
Reportedly still more than 1,000 miles from the U.S. border, the caravan's exact numbers are unknown amidst conflicting accounts. The Mexican government estimates the number of people taking part in the caravan has fallen below 4,000, while United Nations officials assisting Mexican authorities said Monday that more than 7,200 people had participated. Alex Mensing, a U.S.-based organizer with the humanitarian group Pueblo Sin Fronteras claimed the size of the caravan has swelled to 10,000.
Officials said they are considering all options for sealing the border, including denial of Central American asylum applications based on the so-called "travel ban" of 2017, which a deeply divided U.S. Supreme Court upheld as a legitimate use of executive authority. No final decisions have been made, they said, citing legal challenges as a barrier to some of the more aggressive methods.
Pedro Pardo/AFP via Getty Images
"The administration is considering a wide range of administrative, legal and legislative options to address the Democrat-created crisis of mass illegal immigration," a White House official explained. "No decisions have been made at this time. Nor will we forecast to smugglers or caravans what precise strategies will or will not be deployed."
The details are expected to be finalized by early next week in a speech by the president. In the meantime, the Pentagon is preparing to deploy at least 800 troops to the border to confront the caravan.
Department of Homeland Security Department Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said Thursday night, "If [the migrants] come here illegally with no legitimate reason to stay, they absolutely will be apprehended and removed immediately," she said. "To ignore, basically, refuge and continue, in some cases, to come to the United States raises questions of what their real motives are."
Human Rights First, a non-profit and non-partisan rights group, spoke out against this proposed regulation,
saying President Trump is "misinterpreting the law."
"The fact that the president can apply it to asylum is where we say no," said Jennifer Quigley, an advocacy strategist for refugee protections with Human Rights First, a non-profit and non-partisan rights group. She explained that such a move from the Trump administration would be a violation of the U.S. Constitution's due process clause and obligations under international law, such as the Refugee Convention.
Marielena Hincapie, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center agreed that closing the border would do more harm than good. "This is going to impact a large range of people coming through who may or may not be part of the caravan, other people who are seeking asylum, or other forms of visas," she said. "A lot of people are simply coming over to do business."
The president's re-election campaign doubled spending over the last three months.
Even with his re-election vote two years away, President Trump has raised more than $100 million towards his campaign.
The president's fundraising total, which include his campaign committee and joint accounts with the Republican National Committee (RNC), raised more than $18 million from July to September, according to numbers filed by the Federal Election Commission on Monday night. With more than $106 million at his disposal, Trump has raised a historic amount for an election this far in advance. In contrast, President Barack Obama had just $2.3 million in his bank account two years before his 2012 re-election bid.
The preemptive effort to undermine his future Democratic contender began as soon as 2017, with Trump's abnormal decision to file for re-election the day he was sworn in. There was barely a pause in his campaign's rallying tours across the country—they continued in the first months of his presidency.
Strikingly, the president's campaign committee has raised the majority of its bursting wallet from donations of less than $200. These small sums represent nearly 98% of the money he collected during the third quarter of the year. That's not to say his fundraising team hasn't sought larger donors. One check deposited in the RNC joint account for $250,000 came from venture capitalist and human blood enthusiast Peter Thiel.
Trump's campaign doubled spending over the last three months to $7.7 million, seeking to stir up its Republican base with more rallies and online appeals. $604,000 was paid to Ace Specialties in Louisiana, the manufacturers of the Trump base's favorite "Make America Great Again" red hats. $1.3 million was paid for legal fees, which includes services related to the Russian meddling investigations, and $1.6 million was spent on advertising to a shadowy company called American Made Media Consultants.
According to the New York Times, the company was created by the campaign to purchase media advertisements as well as online fundraising solicitations. While it's not intended to create profit for Trump, the company could allow the campaign to avoid declaring precise spending details to the election commission. The idea seems to draw inspiration from Mitt Romney's presidential campaign.
In a statement, the Trump campaign's senior advisor encourages their grass-root supporters "and millions more like them to get out and vote in the midterms so President Trump can continue to build on his agenda with even greater success for the forgotten men and women of this great country."
Despite his success, Rep. Beto O'Rourke, the Democratic challenger to Sen. Ted Cruz in Texas, reportedly raised more than double what Trump did between July and September. The $38.1 million haul is a quarterly fundraising record for a Senate campaign.