Senators Reminisce on What Remains of Republican Power as Nancy Pelosi Sworn in as House Speaker
WASHINGTON, January 3, 2019 — Most people would not be happy to know they’d be unemployed within the hour, but with minutes left in his Senate tenure, Jeff Flake was all smiles.
The outgoing Arizona senator, who’d become a leading voice in the small movement of Republicans with objections to how President Donald Trump has conducted himself in office, moved about the Senate floor Thursday morning with the easy demeanor of a man who no longer felt the responsibility of standing up for a party that now largely reviled him.
After Vice President Mike Pence gaveled the 115th Congress’ Senate into recess for the last time, Flake chatted at the back of the chamber with Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., and exchanged words with both of his state’s new senators, Republican Martha McSally and Democrat Kyrsten Sinema.
McSally joins the Senate after being appointed to fill the seat vacated by Sen. John Kyl, who returned to the upper chamber after the death of his longtime colleague, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
But Sinema, who will be the state’s senior senator despite being sworn in on the same day as her Republican counterpart, arrived in Washington the old-fashioned way — by defeating McSally in a hard-fought midterm election battle.
Though the onetime rivals will be serving together, they did not exchange words as they waited for Flake to escort them in separate groups of five to the well of the Senate chamber, where they were sworn in by the vice president.
Other outgoing or former senators seen in the chamber Thursday were former Sens. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., Richard Bryan and D-Nev., Larry Pressler, R-S.D, as well as former Senator and Secretary of State John Kerry, D-Mass.
As the Senators-elect were led by their colleagues and predecessors to be sworn in, another outgoing Republican known for his distaste for the president, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., shook hands with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
Meanwhile, Senator-elect Mitt Romney, R-Utah, the former GOP standard-bearer, stood quietly at the back of the chamber alone.
Though the now-Senator and former Massachusetts governor was once considered the leader of the Republican Party, he may have to become accustomed to being one of 100.
While Thursday’s swearings-in did not result in a change from Republican control in the Senate, other side of the Capitol welcomed a new era of divided government as Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was sworn in as Speaker of the House, becoming the first person since the late Sam Rayburn to hold the speakership more than once.
With Washington in the throes of a partial government shutdown, it is yet to be seen when or whether the new reality will make an impression on President Trump. Until late Thursday, he remained ensconced in the White House issuing tweets about his proposed wall along the border with Mexico. Trump, who precipitated this now-13-day government shutdown after rejecting a bipartisan deal over a lack of funding for the wall, appeared briefly in the White House briefing room.
Trump congratulated Pelosi on her election as House speaker, although his appearance may well have been an attempt to redirect news coverage away from her.
Although House Democrats plan to move a measure to reopen the government on Thursday, Senate Majority Leader McConnell has indicated that he won’t take any action to move the exact legislation the Senate approved by voice vote before Christmas, with Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala., warning reporters that the shutdown could go on for “months and months.”
But as Flake left the Capitol after seeing his successors sworn in, he told reporters that things could be “easier” with divided government.
“When one party controls, there’s an illusion that you can muscle your way through things, and you usually can’t,” Flake said. “That illusion is gone now.”
Editor’s Note: This story has been modified to add additional news about the White House press conference with President Trump.
‘No Good Explanation’ For McConnell ‘Thumb Twiddling’ On Election Security Bills, Schumer Says
WASHINGTON, June 19, 2019 — Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on Tuesday said he doesn’t know why Mitch McConnell won’t allow the Senate to vote on a host of election security measures, but he hopes it’s not because the Senate Majority Leader wants President Donald Trump and his party to benefit from foreign interference.
“It’s hard to come up with any good reason why one should block this,” said Schumer, D-N.Y., who noted that McConnell’s stonewalling extends to bipartisan measures offered by Senators Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. and James Lankford, R-Okla.
“I have no good explanation, and I hope it’s not because he thinks that Russian interference will benefit President Trump or his party,” he said, adding that the tools Russian President Vladimir Putin used for the pro-interference campaign he mounted in 2016 could easily be turned around and used to obtain a result that McConnell would not like.
Efforts to craft a comprehensive election security bill that would shore up American elections against foreign meddling and deter adversaries from attempting to interfere have been a priority for Democrats and some Republicans since early 2017, after intelligence officials revealed that Russia had put its thumb on the scales during the 2016 presidential election.
President Trump and many of his allies have often tried to downplay the significance of the Intelligence Community’s findings as a “hoax” perpetrated on the American people as part of a “deep state coup” by unelected bureaucrats.
During a joint press conference with Putin at their Helsinki summit last year, Trump said he believed the Russian strongman’s denials over the assessments of his own intelligence chiefs.
But a two-year investigation led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller largely confirmed what intelligence officials had already revealed to the public.
In his report to Attorney General William Barr, Mueller found that Russia “interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion,” using networks of “troll farms” and social media bots to hijack the public discourse, and by weaponizing information stolen from the Democratic National Committee and members of 2016 nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
Mueller and his team found no evidence of a criminal conspiracy or any sort of direct coordination between President Trump’s 2016 campaign and the Russian government. But the evidence they unearthed showed that the Russian government “perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome,” and that senior members of the President’s 2016 campaign were aware of Russia’s efforts and had expected to benefit from them.
While the 2018 midterm elections appear to have gone off without incident, Schumer said it is “irresponsible” for McConnell to suggest that the mission of securing future elections is complete, citing FBI Director Christopher Wray’s warning that America’s adversaries “are going to keep adapting and upping their game” for the “big show” in 2020.
“Director Wray says things are going to get a lot worse in 2020 and [McConnell] just stands there and twiddle[s] [his] thumbs,” he said, calling the majority leader’s stance “totally inconsistent with the warnings from the Special Counsel and the FBI Director.”
“Intelligence Committee community leaders have repeatedly warned that foreign powers will interfere with elections again, and it’s not just Russia — China, North Korea, Iran, all could do it.”
Schumer added that Democrats will continue to press for votes on many of the election security bills that have been bottled up by McConnell, as well as the bipartisan sanctions bills like the DETER Act, sponsored by Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md. and Marco Rubio, R-Fla.
“Leader McConnell has plenty of good options to choose from. There’s no reason why the Senate can’t take up and debate any of these bills,” Schumer said.
When asked to explain the GOP leader’s refusal to allow votes on bills related to election security, Majority Whip John Thune said Republicans would be willing to take up any measures judged “constructive and helpful” that were “more than partisan exercises.”
“We shouldn’t tolerate any foreign interference in American elections. But I do know that a lot of discussion around this issue is, I think, designed to attack the President,” he said.
Federal Communications Commission
Three Democratic Senators Came Not to Bury the FCC’s Net Neutrality Rules, But to Praise Them
WASHINGTON, June 12, 2019 – A trio of Democratic senators on Tuesday called for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to allow a vote on legislation to roll back the Federal Communications Commission’s repeal of network neutrality regulations put in place during the Obama administration.
Sens. Ed Markey, D-Mass., Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., each took to the Senate floor on Tuesday to demand that McConnell, R-Ky., bring the Save the Internet Act to the floor for a vote. The Markey-authored legislation would turn back the regulatory clock to June 11, 2018, just as FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s repeal of the Obama-era Open Internet regulations was taking effect.
“I rise today in defense of net neutrality. In April, the House of Representatives took an important step in passing the Save the Internet Act legislation that would…restore net neutrality protections,” said Markey, who has been a strong proponent of rules to prevent broadband providers from blocking or throttling customers’ internet traffic since his days representing Massachusetts in the House of Representatives.
Markey noted that the Senate passed a so-called “resolution of disapproval” last year to use the Congressional Review Act to overturn the FCC’s repeal of the Obama-era rules, but added that he was offering up the Save the Internet Act because the CRA is no longer an option.
“Unfortunately, our Republican colleague are failing to listen to the voices of their constituents and plan to block the vote from happening,” he said.
“Let’s be clear. Net Neutrality is just another way in which the Republican Party refuses to side with the ordinary people in our country.”
Wyden echoes the high stakes involving in politicizing net neutrality
Wyden, who has frequently collaborated with Markey on network neutrality legislation, rose when his colleague had finished to echo the Massachusetts senator’s call for action and explain the stakes.
“Net neutrality — the free and open internet — says that once you have access to the internet, you get to go where you want, when you want and how you want,” Wyden said before noting that both he and Markey have been pushing for strong network neutrality protections for more than ten years.
Responding to critics of his bill who’ve said that the current FCC rules have not resulted in the far-reaching consequences predicted by network neutrality proponents, Wyden explained that the changes he and others fear are often slow in coming.
“Here’s the reality — these changes that hurt consumers don’t come all at once, and that’s for a reason. Big cable companies count on making them in steady, creeping ways that go unnoticed — it’s death by a thousand inconveniences,” he said.
The Oregon senator offered as an example the recent proliferation of “unlimited” data plans “that totally throw away the definition of the word ‘unlimited.'”
“To understand the complicated limits on internet access in these newfangled “unlimited” plans, you practically need a graduate degree in big-cable legal jargon,” Wyden said. “Consumers might be forced to swallow hard and accept it, but that doesn’t make it acceptable.”
Wyden also noted that the rise of mega-mergers between content providers and broadband network operators — like the recent merger between Time-Warner and AT&T — can threaten consumers by eroding competition, reducing the number of available choices, and giving rise to anti-competitive bundling deals in which network operators don’t charge for access to one preferred content provider but do so for all others.
“That’s a bad deal for consumers who ought to be able to access what they want and when they want. It’s also a nightmare for startup companies who won’t be able to afford special treatment and won’t be able to compete with the big guys,” he said.
Cantwell says that net neutrality rules are needed to protect jobs from internet companies
Cantwell, D-Wash., noted that strong network neutrality rules would protect the 15,000 internet companies which provide 377,000 jobs and make up one-fifth of the economy in her state.
“We know we have to fight back against companies who gouge consumers or suppress competition. And being one year since the FCC decided to turn back protections for the internet, we’re here today because we know that we’ve already seen the inklings of what is more to come,” she said before adding that broadband provides are already “doing things that are slowing down or charging consumers more.”
Network neutrality rules, Cantwell said, drew comments from more than 20,000 consumers who told the FCC to keep strong protections in place.
“They do not want to see large-scale companies overcharging or gouging them,” she said.
Cantwell argued that strong network neutrality protections are good for the economy because they allow the internet to be a “great equalizer” that is “helping people from different backgrounds participate in our economy.”
“But innovative businesses in every small town and every city need to have an internet that is going to give them access to create jobs and move their local economies forward,” she added, warning that consolidation threatened the internet’s record as an economic engine.
“Today, in the United States, three cable companies – just three cable companies – have control of internet access for 70 percent of Americans. And 80 percent of rural Americans still only have one choice for high-speed broadband in their homes and businesses,” she said.
“So we’re not going to get likely competition where the consumer can just say ‘You’re artificially slowing me down. You’re charging me too much. I’m just going to go to the competition.’ That’s not likely to happen.”
“That is why we need a strong FCC approach to protecting an open internet and saying that they shouldn’t block, they shouldn’t throttle, they shouldn’t manipulate internet access. And without these protections, big cable can move faster in charging more,” Cantwell said.
“I ask my colleagues on the other side of the aisle to say that it’s time to hold these companies accountable and put consumers ahead of these big cable profits.”
(Photo of Sen. Ed Markey on the Senate floor on Tuesday.)
Eyes on 2020
As Democrats Battle to Challenge Trump, Do Senators Have a Newfound Advantage?
WASHINGTON, January 31, 2019 — Nine Senate Democrats have either announced a 2020 presidential campaign, launched an exploratory committee, or are mulling whether to seek a promotion from the Senate to the White House that the American people have granted only three times in one hundred years.
Experts are divided over whether, the age of Donald Trump’s precedent-shattering victory, old norms about presidential expectations still apply.
While senators have won their parties’ nominations regularly, only three — Warren Harding, John F. Kennedy, and Barack Obama — have gone directly from the Senate to the Oval Office by prevailing in a general election.
According to presidential historian Allan Lichtman, the reason so many well-credentialed senators have stumbled on the path between the legislative and executive branches is the nature of a senator’s job.
have a voting record, which inevitably is going to have elements in it that
open you up to attack and criticism, and if your experience is solely limited
to the legislature, you don’t have the executive experience that at least
traditionally has been considered an important part of the credentials to run
for president,” Lichtman said.
But Lichtman, an American University professor known for his presidential election prediction model, cautioned BeltwayBreakfast that in light of the last presidential election, past may no longer be prologue.
“In the era of Trump, all this may be obsolete,” he said, explaining that the 45th president’s brand of “anything goes kind of politics” renders old measures of qualification and disqualification meaningless. “The credentials may make no difference whatsoever anymore.”
As a result, he posits that holding a governorship — once a far more reliable springboard to the presidency — may no longer be the best career path for those who aspire to the highest office in the land. Governors, he said, seem to have a much harder time getting the attention one needs to mount a run.
The ability to get on television excites the base more than pragmatic governing at the state level
“We’re in an era of politics where your ability to get on television, get a national profile and excite the base of your party has become most important,” he said.
added that in an era when executive experience “doesn’t seem to matter very
much” to voters – the nationalization of American politics
and the ubiquity of cable news gives senators, whose jobs give them the ability
to appear on TV to discuss the televised speech or hearing statement they
delivered earlier that day, a built-in advantage.
One veteran politico who seconded Lichtman’s suggestion of a new senatorial advantage is Mark McKinnon, who helped shepherd then-Texas Governor George W. Bush to a narrow win in the 2000 election.
“I think governors are at a greater disadvantage than they used to be,” said McKinnon, who is currently a co-executive producer of Showtime’s “The Circus.” “It used to be that all politics was local, now all politics are national.”
McKinnon added, draw a significant advantage from being located in the “media
hub” that is the nation’s capital.
“The entire focus of the media universe is in Washington right now,” he said.
As many as nine Senate Democrats could eventually look to prove Lichtman and McKinnon right by showing the Senate to be a viable launchpad for a White House run.
First-term Californian Kamala Harris officially jumped into the race on Martin Luther King, Jr. day, an auspicious date for a campaign that is banking on a young, diverse emerging majority to make 2020 the year demographics finally become destiny for Democrats.
New Yorker Kirsten Gillibrand is counting on her years of advocacy for women to help her finally break through the glass ceiling Hillary Clinton allowed to emerge unbroken from 2016, and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren hopes her history of economic justice advocacy will let claim the mantle of the candidate who best represents the hopes of the “99 percent.”
Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., is reportedly close to announcing a second bid for the Democratic nomination, and Ohio veteran Sherrod Brown recently announced his own “Dignity of Work” listening tour of early primary states. Also contemplating White House runs are Sens Cory Booker, D-N.J, Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.
Democrats’ control of governorships at lowest level in a century
Though Democrats’ control of governorships has been at the lowest level in a century, there are a few whose names have been floated as potential entrants into a field crowded enough to put the GOP’s 2016 primary slate to shame.
Washington Governor Jay Inslee, a former member of the House of Representatives, has sought to boost his name recognition with TV appearances over the past month, and the name of Democratic Governors’ Association Steve Bullock, of Montana, has been on the lips of some as a potential contender as well.
Also considering a run is former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, who emerged as a possible member of a speculated “unity ticket” with now-former Ohio Governor John Kasich (R).
One of McKinnon’s colleague from the George W. Bush campaign, Republican strategist Michael Turk, agreed the way political parties have nationalized most issues precludes states attempting the kind of policy experimentation that once let governors distinguish themselves in presidential primaries.
“The two political parties have tried to nationalize most issues, so it kind of precludes that sort of policy formation at the state level,” he said. “The more they do that, the less you’re going to have governors rise up because they don’t have the wiggle room to implement different policies at the state level.”
But not everyone is declaring governorships dead as a presidential stepping-stone. Democratic consultant Joe Trippi, who ran then-Vermont Governor Howard Dean’s groundbreaking 2004 primary campaign, predicted that the public’s low opinion of Congress means the trend of senators not being successful at the presidential level is not likely to change.
“The reason Senators don’t do well is the American people don’t have
He added that governors usually have an easier time of pointing to ways in which they got things done while in
“People respond to people who can actually run governments and know how to turn the light switches on,” Trippi said. “Particularly if the current office holder couldn’t find the chair in the Oval Office.”
With a large and crowded field, social media may be more important than television coverage
While Lichtman, McKinnon, and Turk pointed to senators’ easy access to television as a game-changer, Trippi predicted that the sheer size of the Democratic field will preclude most media from covering them all, meaning social media — not television — will be more of a factor for 2020.
Governors can fight whatever advantage senators can get with constant TV exposure by drawing contrasts and stressing their experience dealing with often-raucous state legislatures.
“It’s not that you have to be at the hearings standing up to Trump’s nominees,” he said.
“Do not underestimate how people despise anyone who’s gone to Washington and become part of the problem. It’s hard to get that off of you [to longer] have that whiff over the campaign if you don’t have accomplishments.”
One of the masterminds behind President Bill Clinton’s 1992 victory added three more hurdles to the list of those facing the Senate Democrats running for the 2020 nomination.
James Carville predicts failure if Democrats following a ‘base strategy’
In a phone interview with BeltwayBreakfast, veteran strategist James Carville said the difficulties stemming from minority status in the Senate, the Republican president in the White House, and the relatively short time to distinguish themselves from a field already crowded with their own colleagues will hamper any Senate Democrat’s presidential ambitions.
“How are you in the minority in the Senate going to prove to people you can govern? The truth of that is you probably can’t in the time left,” Carville said, noting the slim odds of either Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., allowing a vote on a Democrat-supported bill or President Trump signing one.
“I doubt any…Democratic senator is going to come up with a brilliant policy initiative that is going to be signed into law between now and the election.”
Carville, who retired from domestic political consulting after the 1992 election, predicted that the memory of 2016 will factor heavily into how Democrats vote in 2020.
“The trauma that 2016 inflicted on the Democratic party cannot be overestimated,” he said, citing recent polling data that shows Iowa caucus goers prefer a “seasoned candidate” by a double-digit margin.
“To the extent we know what Iowa caucus-goers are thinking, they’re very much in a mood that we need a seasoned candidate who can win the election,” he said.
Carville suggested the adage that Democrats fall in love while Republicans fall in line behind their chosen candidate may not apply with a Democratic party chastened by 2016 and a Republican party that has largely become a personality cult devoted to President Trump.
Normally Democrats love someone who can excite them, who can make them feel good about themselves and the party,” he said. “But the Republicans are not in any kind of line other than the Trump line, and I’m not sure the Democrats are not in a more pragmatic mood and are ready to cue up as opposed to melt down.”
That pragmatism, Carville predicted, could lead Democrats to look once more to a governor who can connect with a broader swath of the American electorate, rather than following a mirror-image of Trump’s “base strategy” by appealing to urban voters and minorities.
While he acknowledged that a strategy focused on core Democratic constituencies can win more votes, Carville warned that unless Democrats get better at “math and maps” be recognizing that an “emerging majority strategy” is neither guaranteed to deliver the electoral college to Democrats nor ensure Democratic control of the Senate.
“There’s a certain segment of the Democratic party that would rather lose with that coalition than win with a broad-based appeal,” he said, adding that national Democrats should remember that most of freshman House Democrats who won in 2018 did so with pragmatic campaigns tailored to voters in their districts.
Additionally, Carville stressed that a potential candidate’s coattails are going to be an important variable when calculating who is most likely to win the presidency. He suggested that governors with a record of balancing progressive beliefs with pragmatic governance — particularly someone like Scott Bullock of Montana, who can appeal to middle Americans — could bring that broad-based appeal to the campaign trail.
“As long as 18 percent of the country controls 50 percent of the Senate, there’s a limit to what the emerging progressive majority can do. Without North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Texas, Arizona, or Maine, how are you going to field a national campaign?” he asked.
“You can get all the votes you want, but if you don’t control the Senate, you’re SOL in half of one branch of government and SOL in another whole branch of government [the courts].
It’s the senators-versus-governors theories of presidential politics
Carville’s contention that a governor has the best chance of winning the nomination put him odds with Lichtman, the professor who predicted Donald Trump’s shocking victory.
To Lichtman, neither of the two predominant notions of “electability” have any basis in history.
“These are just completely bogus notions that cannot be sustained, and yet people absolutely seem to cling to them,” Lichtman said
“Nobody knows who’s electable — you never know who’s going to catch the imagination.”
This story has been updated to reflect the fact that Joe Trippi did not work with former Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s 2018 Senate campaign. We regret any confusion and invite readers to speculate on whether or not former Rep. O’Rourke would now be Senator O’Rourke had Mr. Trippi been in his employ.