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Mueller On Russian Meddling: “They’re Doing It As We Sit Here’

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

During former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s testimony before Congress on Wednesday, most of the Republicans who questioned him jumped through hoops trying to discredit his testimony — from Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas to Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio. But Texas Rep. Will Hurd actually wanted to hear what the former FBI director had to say and sought his insights on Russian interference in U.S. elections.

Muelle reiterated his previous assertion that in 2016, members of the Russian government made a sweeping and concerted effort to influence the outcome of the presidential election. And the 41-year-old Hurd, during his questioning of Mueller, zeroed in on the fact that the Russian government interference in U.S. elections is by no means limited to 2016.

“In your investigation,” Hurd asked Mueller, “did you think that this was a single attempt by the Russians to get involved in our election? Or did you find evidence to suggest that they will try to do this again?”

Mueller emphatically responded, “No, it wasn’t a single attempt.” And he quickly added that Russians are still trying to influence U.S. elections and predicted that they will be doing so in the 2020 election.

“They’re doing it as we sit here,” Mueller testified. “And they expect to do it during the next campaign.”

 

Chicago Mayor Emanuel Heads To Runoff Against Garcia

By Bill Ruthhart and Rick Pearson, Chicago Tribune (TNS)

CHICAGO — Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is headed to a politically risky runoff election in April after conceding he won’t reach the 50 percent benchmark he needs on Tuesday night.

“We have come a long way and we have a little further to go,” Emanuel told supporters at a union hall.

Emanuel said he’s moved the city in the right direction. “But we have to be honest. We have a lot more work to do.”
With 83.7 percent of precincts reporting, Emanuel had 45.5 percent to 33.9 percent for challenger Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, a Cook County commissioner. The two will now campaign for six more weeks and Chicago voters will get their final say on April 7.

Some Emanuel supporters booed Garcia’s name, but Emanuel cautioned them off. “No, no. He’s a good man,” Emanuel said of Garcia.

Businessman Willie Wilson was running third at 10.5 percent, 2nd Ward Alderman Bob Fioretti had 7.4 percent and frequent candidate William “Dock” Walls had 2.7 percent, according to unofficial returns.

Emanuel used a multimillion-dollar campaign war chest to try to rebuild his image and rebound from widespread voter disenchantment, but being forced into an April 7 runoff election would represent a personal and political setback, given his massive fundraising advantage against a field of far lesser-known opponents.

The low-enthusiasm nature of the mayoral campaign was symbolized by what city election officials said was low voter turnout Tuesday, which saw chilly temperatures and occasional bouts of snow. City projections had this turnout comparable to the record low of 33 percent in 2007 when then-Mayor Richard M. Daley won his sixth and final term.

An April runoff election between the top two finishers could sharply change the political dynamics. Anti-Emanuel voters could coalesce around Garcia, who also could go back to campaign donors and argue he’s got momentum. While a stream of ads and active Emanuel fundraising is expected to continue, it also puts more pressure on the mayor to engage Garcia one-on-one, rather than largely dismissing the field of challengers as Emanuel did during five debates.

Emanuel amassed a campaign fund of more than $16 million, with nearly half of that dedicated to 16 different broadcast television ads that aimed to shave off the sharp edge of the mayor’s persona as well as criticisms over school closings, crime and neighborhood economic development that marked his first four years.

Garcia, a former alderman and state lawmaker, was a late entry into the race. He assumed the mantle of the Chicago Teachers Union after its president, Karen Lewis, ended a potential bid for mayor following a diagnosis of brain cancer.

The next mayor, inaugurated formally in May, faces a series of severe economic challenges ahead.

The city must find $550 million more to put into police and fire pensions by year’s end — and Emanuel did not rule out a boost in city property taxes to cover the costs after tapping higher 911 emergency phone taxes last year to increase payments into other city pension funds.

Additionally, organized labor has sued the city over agreements that Emanuel had made with some city unions in an effort to reduce Chicago’s pension liability.

The next mayor also faces the prospect of continuing city budget shortfalls ahead of the magnitude of hundreds of millions of dollars as new Republican Governor Bruce Rauner has proposed a state budget that would take $135 million in income tax money away from Chicago.

Ahead of the election, Emanuel had sought to paint his rivals as unable to articulate a cogent or comprehensive solution for dealing with the city’s financial problems.

Garcia called for using tax-increment financing funds to make a down payment on city pensions as well as a state constitutional amendment to impose a graduated income tax on the wealthy.

For his part, Fioretti backed a controversial transaction tax on Chicago Board of Trade activity as well as a tax on commuters who come into the city. Wilson was opposed to any tax increases and instead called for restoring Northerly Island as a Meigs Field airport and creating a Chicago casino.

Emanuel, Garcia and Fioretti all lunched in the South Loop on Tuesday. The mayor ate at the Eleven City Diner on South Wabash, while Garcia and Fioretti went to the traditional political lunch spot, Manny’s.

In the final days of the race, Garcia had insisted he was headed to a one-on-one showdown with Emanuel.

“We’re headed to a runoff,” Garcia said. “We have a strong organization, people are very enthused. We’ve picked up a lot momentum over the past week, and our goal is to get into a runoff.”

Much like his race for mayor four years ago, Emanuel spent heavily to get his message before voters. But this time around, he placed less focus on his well-known political caricature as a fiery and often foul-mouthed politician. Instead, as a longtime political operative well-versed in campaign messaging, Emanuel made the calculation that his campaign should be less about him and more about what he has done.

As a result, his campaign website’s home page focused on an interactive Chicago map of city improvements over photos of Emanuel. His campaign slogan was rebranded from “Chicago for Rahm” to “Chicago Together.” And almost all of his campaign ads did not include him talking, but instead featured supporters lauding his specific accomplishments.

It was an effort to soften Emanuel’s image with voters, some of whom have been angry with him over a 2012 teachers strike, his decision in 2013 to close 50 schools and his ongoing struggle to tamp down the city’s violent crime.

Opponents, particularly Garcia and Fioretti, sought to seize on the school closings and the city’s spike in shootings on Emanuel’s watch as reason for voters to replace the mayor.

Garcia repeatedly slammed Emanuel for not fulfilling a campaign promise to hire an additional 1,000 police officers while the mayor countered he reassigned hundreds of officers from desk jobs to street beats. Garcia vowed to hire 1,000 additional cops but did not entirely account for how he’d pay for it. Fioretti promised to hire 500.

Wilson said he’d reopen at least half of the schools that Emanuel closed, without saying how he’d pay for it. Garcia and Fioretti pushed for an elected school board as the answer to Emanuel’s appointed Board of Education voting to back his school closings.

In August, Emanuel’s job approval rating bottomed out at 35 percent, according to a Chicago Tribune poll that also found for the first time that every major demographic group in the city disapproved of his performance as mayor. That same poll had Emanuel trailing in a hypothetical one-on-one matchup with Lewis.

For four years straight, Tribune polling showed voters backing the Chicago Teachers Union over Emanuel when it came to their disputes on how best to run the city’s school system.

By the time candidates filed for office, Emanuel found himself against opponents with lower political profiles who struggled to gain traction and raise enough money to air their own TV ads. Since Emanuel took to the airwaves in November, his support has improved.

A Tribune poll published last Tuesday found Emanuel’s support had rebounded, particularly among blacks. He held a 43 percent to 13 percent advantage over Garcia among black voters, with one-fourth of them still undecided. That was a stark turnaround compared with the August poll that found six-in-10 black voters disapproving of Emanuel’s job performance and only one-in-four voters approving.
___

(Tribune reporters David Kidwell, John Chase, Jeff Coen, David Heinzmann and Patrick M. O’Connell contributed.)

Photo: Daniel X. O’Neil via Flickr

Biden Making Pitch To Liberals

By Lesley Clark, McClatchy Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — Vice President Joe Biden will appear this week for the first time before the largest gathering of progressive activists in the country, a critical constituency for any Democrat with presidential ambitions.

Biden’s debut at the annual Netroots Nation comes as the vice president has made a number of moves that could better position himself with the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, if he decides to make a third run for the presidency.

Those moves could help him compete for liberal support with Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts if she runs for the Democratic nomination, and stake out the left flank of Hillary Clinton.

Among Biden’s steps:
–At a June White House summit on working families — as presumed Democratic front-runner Clinton grappled with missteps on talking about her wealth — Biden portrayed himself as a populist everyman, declaring he was once “the poorest man in Congress.”

— In Philadelphia to mark the Fourth of July, he declared gay marriage to be the “civil rights issue of our day.”

— And in South Carolina he delivered a closed-door speech that was fiery and populist, attendees told CNN.

“Clearly there’s a part of him that wants to run for president,” Robert Borosage, president of the liberal group Campaign for America’s Future, said in an interview. “I think he’s kind of testing the water, putting a toe in, and Netroots would be a good place for that.”

The Scranton, Pa., native’s blue-collar roots make him an attractive candidate for the party’s liberal base, which is increasingly focused on income inequality and what it sees as the excesses of Wall Street, Borosage said. Biden also declared his support for gay marriage before President Barack Obama.

“On domestic policy, he’s always been standup,” Borosage said. “It doesn’t seem like a contradiction for him to appeal to progressives.”

Biden does have challenges with the left. He is viewed as hawkish on foreign policy, and like Clinton he voted in 2002 to give President George W. Bush the authority to go to war in Iraq, a vote he has since said he regrets.

Biden is widely viewed as wanting to keep his name in play, telling interviewers earlier this year that he was unlikely to make a decision on a presidential bid until next summer, but that it was “as likely I run as I don’t run.”

Confidantes say the current 2016 speculation is premature and that Biden is simply speaking to rally troops who are part of the administration’s natural constituency.

“This is what vice presidents do,” said Ted Kaufman, a longtime Biden aide who was appointed to finish out Biden’s Senate term when Biden left for the vice presidency. “It’s safe to say there isn’t anything he’s doing right now that isn’t part of his job description.”

Kaufman notes Biden’s remarks about his income aren’t new: He used similar language to describe himself in 2008, and the Obama campaign touted his less-than-millionaire status to cast him as someone who could relate to the middle class.

Netroots Nation executive director Raven Brooks said activists expect Biden’s focus on Thursday to be the immediate: November’s midterm elections.

Still, Brooks notes Biden’s appearance “certainly serves a dual purpose for him if he decides to run. Getting out there and being the guy most able to most openly court the liberal base certainly doesn’t do him any harm and in fact does him some favors for 2016.”

Biden won’t be the only potential 2016 candidate to mingle with the estimated 3,000 activists and bloggers at the Cobo Center in Detroit.

Warren, who says she’s staying in the Senate but remains a favorite among liberals for a presidential bid, will make her third Netroots appearance. She will deliver the conference’s keynote address on Friday, a day after Biden speaks.

Clinton, who is widely believed to be considering a run but has largely eschewed political events in lieu of her book tour, will not attend. But her campaign-in-waiting, Ready for Hillary, will be at the event, sponsoring a party and parking its bus at the convention center.

Photo: Abaca Press/MCT/Olivier Douliery

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GOP Strategists: If Republicans Focus On White Voters, They’re Doomed In 2016… And Beyond

Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has given us a preview of what his alibi will be if he can’t lead his caucus through the complicated dance it will take to pass substantive immigration reform:

There’s widespread doubt about whether this administration can be trusted to enforce our laws. And it’s going to be difficult to move any immigration legislation until that changes.

The Speaker’s problem is that he knows this excuse will work perfectly in 2014, when Republicans in districts built for them face voters whiter, older and more conservative than those who elect the president of the United States. But what works in off-year elections — cutting off unemployment insurance, trimming food stamps, smothering immigration reform — is what kills the GOP in the elections that matter most.

MSNBC’s Benjy Sarlin predicted how this excuse will fly:

On a more basic level, a group made up predominantly of white males is letting its distrust of the first black president stop them from any outreach to minority voters — if you take what Boehner is saying at face value. That should be reassuring to non-white voters.

Our Henry Decker points out that immigration reform is just one of the myriad reasons Latinos hate the GOP. However, it is the key issue for many in the Hispanic media and activist community.

Just ask the Walter Cronkite of the genre:

President Obama has pushed for reform, a bill passed the Senate and the president is willing to work with the House on a watered-down version of that bill.

Boehner refused to substantiate why he can’t trust the president. But he’s clearly referencing the executive action Obama took to prevent the deportation of law-abiding immigrants brought to this country as children, which is wildly popular in the activist community. In fact, the community is demanding the president stop all deportations as his administration surpasses in six years the total number the Bush administration exacted in eight.

If reform dies, it’s difficult to imagine a scenario where the president doesn’t at least tamp down deportations, as his effort to “secure the border” as an argument for reform fails to persuade the GOP.

And when that order comes, likely in the middle of the 2016 GOP presidential primary, it will tear the party apart.

Don’t believe me? Ask GOP some strategists.

“It’s hard to predict the future with great exactitude, but I will tell you this:  If we don’t pass immigration reform this year, we will not win the White House back in 2016, 2020 or 2024,” wrote John Feehery, who spent more than a decade working with GOP leaders on Capitol Hill.

Republicans have been dreaming of a new Ronald Reagan for decades, and they would need New Ronnie desperately in 2016.

Commentary‘s Peter Wehner explains:

If minorities reach 30 percent of the vote next time, and the 2016 Democratic nominee again attracts support from roughly 80 percent of them, he or she would need to capture only 37 percent of whites to win a majority of the popular vote. In that scenario, to win a national majority, the GOP would need almost 63 percent of whites. Since 1976, the only Republican who has reached even 60 percent among whites was Reagan (with his 64 percent in 1984). Since Reagan’s peak, the Democratic share of the white vote has varied only between 39 percent (Obama in 2012 and Clinton in the three-way election of 1992), and 43 percent (Obama in 2008 and Clinton in 1996).

Mitt Romney did extraordinarily well with the white vote, winning it by 59 percent, the fourth highest for a Republican ever recorded. But he still lost by 5 million votes.

A new CNN/ORC poll shows 54 percent of all Americans say citizenship should be the priority in reform — a reverse of public opinion in 2011. Romney never even entertained citizenship in his campaign, vowing to veto the DREAM Act for immigrants brought here as kids.

The GOP has moved to the left of its last nominee, as it currently considers some sort of legalization. And though the next Republican nominee will not choose to run on self-deportation, as Romney did, he or she could end up running a campaign vowing to resume actual deportations.

Demography is not destiny, Jamelle Bouie argues in a great essay for Democracy: A Journal of Ideas. But demography combined with policy and politics does hint at fate.

Tea Partiers like Senators Rand Paul (R-KY), Mike Lee (R-UT) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) have recently joined progressives seeking sentencing reform for drug crimes, which is a new angle of reaching out to minorities, who disproportionately serve punitive amounts of prison time for non-violent crimes. But will this effort be heard over the din of immigration reform and Republicans pushing for new voting restrictions that have been proven to target minorities?

“We can’t have a conversation with Hispanics and Asians and Africans and Australians until we fix our broken immigration system,” Feehery said.

And if you’re delaying conversation with a terrible excuse, you’d better rethink what you’re saying.

AFP Photo/Jim Watson