Political MoJo

Forget Elizabeth Warren. Another Female Senator Has a Shot to Fill the Senate's New Power Vacuum.

| Fri Mar. 27, 2015 3:58 PM EDT

Update (3/30/15)—So much for that. On Monday, Murray endorsed Schumer, who now appears to have a clear path to Reid's job.

In the nanoseconds after Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid announced Friday morning that he will give up his leadership post and retire in 2016, liberal groups raced to promote their go-to solution for almost any political problem: Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Much like the movement to draft Warren for president, the idea of putting her in charge of the Democratic caucus was more dream than reality. Warren's office has already said she won't run, and as Vox's Dylan Matthews explains, putting Warren in charge of the Democratic caucus would prevent her from holding her colleagues accountable when they stray too far from progressive ideals.

Instead, Reid's likely replacement is New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, who already has endorsements from Reid and Dick Durbin, the outgoing minority leader's No. 2. But lefties have long been wary of Schumer, who, thanks to his home base in New York City, is far more sympathetic to Wall Street than the rest of his caucus. And lost in the Warren hype is another female senator: Washington's Patty Murray.

As caucus secretary, Murray is the fourth-ranking member of Senate Democratic leadership, behind Reid, Durbin, and Schumer. If she decides to take on Schumer for Reid's job, Murray could be the first woman to serve as a party leader in the US Senate. Murray's office didn't respond to a request for comment on whether she'd run for the job and, besides a general statement praising Reid, was notably quiet on Friday.

In 2013, I cowrote a profile of Murray for The American Prospect looking at her role in leading Democrats' negotiations with Republicans on the budget, and explained how she's a pragmatic progressive who will push for the most liberal policies she can pass while still being willing to forge compromise with the centrists in her party:

There's something peculiarly undefined about Murray's ideology. She's a liberal, a West Coast liberal to be precise: strong on social issues, the environment, workers' rights, and the government's role in society. She hews closely to the Democratic talking points of the day. But it's hard to discern a coherent vision or theory behind her views. She is as far left as you can go without alienating the centrists in the party. More than anything, she's a pragmatist. Success trumps belief in the "right" things. At the same time, Murray doesn't venerate moderation for its own sake—she's no Rahm Emanuel. "She's a strong progressive," says a former Budget Committee staff member, "but she won't tilt at windmills, she won't force a vote on something she knows she's not going to win."

Murray certainly has the résumé to compete for the job. She led the Democrats' campaign arm in 2012, when the party picked up two Senate seats, defying pundits' predictions. She forged a budget agreement with Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) in 2013 that averted across-the-board budget cuts. Murray is generally press-shy—she flies home across the country each weekend instead of doing the Sunday show circuit—which would leave room for other Senate stars, including Warren, to be the party's public face while Murray controls the behind-the-scenes negotiations. But as that budget committee staffer told me in 2013, Murray isn't known for picking fights she can't win. If she runs against Schumer, it'll be because she thinks she has a real shot at Reid's post.

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Harry Reid Announces His Retirement

| Fri Mar. 27, 2015 8:21 AM EDT

Update, 12:26 p.m.: Shortly after announcing his retirement, Reid endorsed Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to replace him. "I think Schumer should be able to succeed me,” he told the Washington Post in an interview at his DC residence. 

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid announced on Friday he will not be seeking reelection when his term comes to an end next year. He announced his retirement in a YouTube video:

The decision to retire, the 75-year-old senator from Nevada said, "has absolutely nothing to do" with the injury he sustained back in January from an exercising accident or his new role as minority leader following the Democrats' loss during the midterm elections. In an interview with the New York Times he explained, "I want to be able to go out at the top of my game. I don’t want to be a 42-year-old trying to become a designated hitter."

In the video, Reid continues with a message to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, "Don't be too elated. I'm going to be here for 22 more months, and you know what I'm going to be doing? The same thing I've done since I first came to the Senate. We have to make sure the Democrats take control of the Senate again."

 

This Lawmaker Publicly Discussed Her Rape and Abortion. And Some Dude Laughed.

| Thu Mar. 26, 2015 4:42 PM EDT

While speaking out against a proposed bill in Ohio that aims to ban abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, Rep. Teresa Fedor (D-Toledo) revealed on Wednesday she had been raped during her time in the military and chose to have an abortion.

"You don't respect my reason, my rape, my abortion, and I guarantee you there are other women who should stand up with me and be courageous enough to speak that voice," Fedor said before the state senate. "What you're doing is so fundamentally inhuman, unconstitutional, and I've sat here too long."

Her testimony comes just weeks after an Arizona lawmaker shared details about her own abortion, which she had after being sexually assaulted by a male relative when she was a young girl. In a later editorial for Cosmopolitan, Rep. Victoria Steele said that while she was glad to have spoken out and share her story during the legislative debate, she resented the fact that "women have to tell their deepest, darkest traumas in public" in order for lawmakers to grasp how dangerous such anti-abortion bills were to women and their health.

In Fedor's case, not only did she feel she had to share her trauma with her colleagues, at one point she was forced to pause and address the fact a man appeared to be laughing at her while she spoke.

"I see people laughing and I don't appreciate that," she said. "And it happens to be a man who is laughing. But this is serious business right now and I'm speaking for all the women in the state of Ohio who didn't get the opportunity to be in front of that committee and make this statement."

Ohio's House Bill 69 eventually passed with a 55-40 vote. The legislation now goes to the senate, and if passed, will make it a fifth-degree felony and result in up to $2,500 and possible jail time for doctors who perform the abortions.

Wondering What Happens in the Cockpit of a Crashing Plane? Read This Story.

| Thu Mar. 26, 2015 1:52 PM EDT
The black box recovered from flight Germanwings 9525.

An international airliner falls out of the sky, seemingly for no reason. A cryptic recording from the cockpit voice recorder. The crash of Germanwings flight 9525 on Tuesday has, at least in the early going, left investigators with a lot of puzzling questions. It's also drawn obvious parallels to an earlier incident—the 1999 crash of EgyptAir 990 off the coast of Massachusetts.

That crash, which killed 217 people, was ultimately chalked up to "manipulation of the airplane controls," according to the National Transporation Safety Board. But that euphemism left a lot unsaid. In a masterful piece in the Atlantic in 2001, reporter William Langewiesche sought to piece together the mystery of what actually happened:

I remember first hearing about the accident early in the morning after the airplane went down. It was October 31, 1999, Halloween morning. I was in my office when a fellow pilot, a former flying companion, phoned with the news: It was EgyptAir Flight 990, a giant twin-engine Boeing 767 on the way from New York to Cairo, with 217 people aboard. It had taken off from Kennedy Airport in the middle of the night, climbed to 33,000 feet, and flown normally for half an hour before mysteriously plummeting into the Atlantic Ocean sixty miles south of Nantucket. Rumor had it that the crew had said nothing to air-traffic control, that the flight had simply dropped off the New York radar screens. Soon afterward an outbound Air France flight had swung over the area, and had reported no fires in sight—only a dim and empty ocean far below. It was remotely possible that Flight 990 was still in the air somewhere, diverting toward a safe landing. But sometime around daybreak a Merchant Marine training ship spotted debris floating on the waves—aluminum scraps, cushions and clothing, some human remains. The midshipmen on board gagged from the stench of jet fuel—a planeload of unburned kerosene rising from shattered tanks on the ocean floor, about 250 feet below. By the time rescue ships and helicopters arrived, it was obvious that there would be no survivors. I remember reacting to the news with regret for the dead, followed by a thought for the complexity of the investigation that now lay ahead. This accident had the markings of a tough case. The problem was not so much the scale of the carnage—a terrible consequence of the 767's size—but, rather, the still-sketchy profile of the upset that preceded it, this bewildering fall out of the sky on a calm night, without explanation, during an utterly uncritical phase of the flight.

Read the entire piece here.

"Everything Could Be Taken Away From Me": Watch This Woman Bravely Fight an Anti-Transgender Bill

| Wed Mar. 25, 2015 7:37 PM EDT

As Florida lawmakers continue to consider a bill aiming to make it a criminal act for transgender people to use the bathroom of their choice, we'd like to direct your attention to Cindy Sullivan, who spoke out against the bill in incredibly brave and emotional testimony earlier this month.

"I see this bill as effecting not just my business but my partner's business," Sullivan said. "If I go to use the restroom, everybody in that restroom has the ability to sue me and my family, affect my child, affect my reputation. Everything could be taken away from me."

"You could put me in jail for being me!"

As her tears well, Sullivan repeatedly looks behind her shoulder, as the bill's sponsor, state representative Frank Artiles watches on.

House Bill 583 has already been approved by two subcommittees and is expected to be reviewed by the house judiciary committee later this week. In Kentucky and Texas, lawmakers are attempting to pass similar anti-transgender legislation. All three states have the support and financial backing of the Alliance Defending Freedom, an influential conservative group.

Sullivan, who began her testimony noting she too was a Republican, slammed the bill as "government intrusion at its worst."

"I'm a throw-away piece of trash, in this country of freedom, and liberty, and respect."

 

Ted Cruz Expected to Headline Event With a Man Who Compared Muslims to Nazis

| Wed Mar. 25, 2015 2:36 PM EDT
Robert Spencer and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who announced his candidacy for President on Monday via Twitter, is expected to speak at the Young America's Foundation's "New England Freedom Conference" in Nashua, New Hampshire on Friday.

Also on the lineup is Robert Spencer, the co-founder of Stop Islamization of America and director of the Jihad Watch blog. He is notorious for his attacks on Islam. "It's absurd" to think that "Islam is a religion of peace that's been hijacked by … extremists," he said at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February. He has compared Muslims to Nazis and demanded that Muslims take a loyalty test before being appointed to public office in America. He has told reporters that Islam is here to take over America, and that President Barack Obama is secretly a Muslim. His book opens with the rallying cry of the Crusades, "God wills it!" and he calls for a second crusade against Islam.

The conference, to be hosted at the Radisson in southeast New Hampshire, bills itself as a conservative gathering on "why big government policies are a big problem" and "ways to effectively push back against leftist, big government threats to your freedoms." It's hosted by the Young America's Foundation, which has previously been linked to extremists. Young Americans for Freedom, which merged with the Young America's Foundation in 2011, hosted an event in 2007 in which Nick Griffin— who was the chairman of the British National Party, a white supremacist group, and a Holocaust denier—spoke. Two board members of Young America's Foundation, Ron Robinson and James B. Taylor, also ran a political action committee that donated thousands of dollars to a white nationalist organization, the Charles Martel Society.

The Council on American Islamic Relations criticized Cruz for agreeing to speak at a conference that is providing a platform to Spencer. "If Senator Cruz believes that he can campaign for president while sharing center stage with a professional hate monger like Robert Spencer, I seriously doubt his ability to win the US minority vote or unite the country as president," said CAIR Government Affairs Manager Robert McCaw.

"Senator Cruz has been invited to speak to Young America's Foundation," says Rick Tyler, a spokesperson for Cruz's campaign. "He intends to keep that commitment."

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Everything Changed on 9/11, Starting With Ted Cruz's Musical Taste

| Tue Mar. 24, 2015 3:26 PM EDT

During a segment of CBS's This Morning show, Senator Ted Cruz attempted to explain how the attacks on September 11 moved him to shun the soulless genre of rock music and pick up country:

You know, music is interesting. I grew up listening to classic rock and I’ll tell you sort of an odd story. My music tastes changed on 9/11. And it’s a very strange—I actually, intellectually, find this very curious, but on 9/11, I didn’t like how rock music responded. And country music collectively, the way they responded, it resonated with me and I have to say, it—just as a gut level, I had an emotional reaction that says, “These are my people.” And so ever since 2001 I listen to country music, but I’m an odd country music fan because I didn’t listen to it prior to 2001.

September 11, the day the music died for our only declared presidential candidate and now the phoniest dude you'll run into at a country concert. This is going to be a wildly entertaining road to 2016.

(h/t Slate)

Police: There Is "No Evidence" of Gang Rape Detailed in Rolling Stone's UVA Story

| Mon Mar. 23, 2015 5:01 PM EDT

In a news conference on Monday, the Charlottesville Police Department announced it would suspend an investigation into the University of Virginia rape allegations first detailed in an explosive Rolling Stone article published last November. The police said they found "no evidence" supporting the claims of the student Rolling Stone identified as Jackie.

"I can't prove that something didn't happen, and there may come a point in time in which this survivor, or this complaining party or someone else, may come forward with some information that might help us move this investigation further," Police Chief Tim Longo told reporters. He also stressed the inquiry was not permanently closed.

According to Longo, Jackie did not cooperate with police officials, who conducted nearly 70 interviews, including speaking with Jackie's friends and members of UVA's Phi Kappa Psi fraternity. Jackie alleged her 2012 rape occurred in Phi Kappa Psi's fraternity house.

The results of the investigation follow a turbulent four months for the magazine, after news outlets such as Slate and the Washington Post unearthed major errors compromising Rolling Stone's story. The magazine acknowledged the discrepancies, saying it had "misplaced its trust" in Jackie.

The story, however, fueled a national conversation over campus sexual assault. An independent investigation led by Columbia University's School of Journalism is expected to be released in the coming weeks.

The Boston Globe Really, Really Wants Elizabeth Warren to Run for President

| Mon Mar. 23, 2015 12:47 PM EDT

On Sunday, the editorial board of the Boston Globe published a four-part argument urging Senator Elizabeth Warren to run against Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination for president. The editorial, which touted Warren's commitment to reducing income inequality, warned Democrats that allowing "Clinton [to] coast to the presidential nomination without real opposition" would be a big mistake.

"Unlike Clinton, or any of the prospective Republican candidates, Warren has made closing the economic gaps in America her main political priority, in a career that has included standing up for homeowners facing illegal foreclosures and calling for more bankruptcy protections," the Globe's editorial board argued. "If she runs, it’ll ensure that those issues take their rightful place at the center of the national political debate."

The paper went onto argue that even on issues, such as strengthening financial regulations, on which Clinton and Warren agree, it was difficult to imagine a "President Clinton enforcing the Dodd-Frank legislation with as much vigor as a President Warren" at a time when income inequality remains a high priority for many Americans.

Although Warren has repeatedly said she is not interested in running for president, Sunday's editorial comes at somewhat of a vulnerable moment for Clinton, who's still dealing with the controversy surrounding her exclusive use of a personal email account while serving as secretary of state. Although the controversy doesn't appear to have damaged Clinton's popularity with top Democratic donors, it has further underscored the serious lack of viable challengers to her nomination.

"Fairly or not, many Americans already view Clinton skeptically, and waltzing to the nomination may actually hurt her in the November election against the Republican nominee," the Globe argued.

If Warren were to remain uninterested in a run, the editorial board said she should continue her efforts to reduce income inequality and "help recruit candidates" to advance her signature cause.

To read the editorial in its entirety, visit the Boston Globe.

 

Ted Cruz's First Campaign Stop: the Birthplace of the "Clinton Body Count"

| Mon Mar. 23, 2015 11:29 AM EDT

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) launched his presidential campaign on Monday at Virginia's Liberty University, a private Christian college founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell. Liberty has become a mandatory stop for aspiring Republican candidates—and it's not just for the campus museum exhibit of the taxidermied bear that Falwell's father once wrestled. Liberty is perhaps the premier academic institution of the religious right, and Cruz's choice of venue sends a clear message that he's trying to position himself in 2016 Republican field as a social conservative crusader—and that he's counting on evangelicals for support.

But Liberty University and its controversial founder have additional significance to the 2016 presidential race. During the 1990s, the anti-gay pastor did more than anyone to popularize the so-called "Clinton Body Count"—the notion that Bill and Hillary Clinton had been responsible for dozens of murders during and after their time in Arkansas. This conspiracy theory was the centerpiece of a 1994 film called the Clinton Chronicles, which Falwell helped distribute to hundreds of thousands of conservatives across the country.

Despite Falwell's best efforts, though, President Bill Clinton won his 1996 re-election campaign, and the episode helped reinforce the pastor's reputation as a bigoted crank. Republican candidates will find it hard to avoid Falwell's institution as the 2016 campaign heats up. We'll see if they've learned from his mistakes, too, when it comes to taking on the Clinton political machine.