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Clinton Clinches Democratic Nomination: AP Delegate Count

Hillary Clinton has reached the number of delegates needed to clinch the Democratic presidential nomination, the Associated Press said on Monday, putting her on course to become the first woman to head a major U.S. party ticket.

Clinton, a former secretary of state, reached the 2,383 delegates needed to become the presumptive Democratic nominee with a decisive weekend victory in Puerto Rico and a burst of last-minute support from superdelegates, the AP reported.

Clinton has 1,812 pledged delegates won in primaries and caucuses. She also has the support of 571 superdelegates, according to an Associated Press count.

The Democratic Party holds its convention in Philadelphia in July to formally choose its nominee for the Nov. 8 election against presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump.

(Writing by Eric Beech; Editing by Leslie Adler)

Photo: U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton makes a speech during a campaign stop in Lynwood, California, United States June 6, 2016.   REUTERS/Mike Blake 

How To Fix An Unfair Presidential Debate System

By Stuart Rothenberg, CQ-Roll Call (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Fox News and CNN, which will broadcast the first two GOP presidential debates, have decided on a system for excluding candidates that could result in Donald Trump participating in those debates but current or former senators and governors being excluded.

Nice going, guys.

I certainly agree having a debate with 16 candidates is simply unwatchable, and there is no easy way to make the early debates fair to the candidates while at the same time more watchable and informative for viewers. But Fox and CNN have both dropped the ball as they try to avoid making tough decisions.

At the first debate on August sixth in Cleveland, Fox will limit participation to candidates who “place in the top ten in an average of the five most recent national polls in the run-up to the event.” Fox apparently will “provide additional coverage and air time on August sixth to the candidates who do not place in the top ten.”

CNN has chosen a similar-but-not-identical approach that is also based on polling leading up to the debate. It will hold two separate forums, one for the top-tier hopefuls and a second for the also-rans.

Fox and CNN, along with the Republican National Committee, can (and surely will) argue they are not excluding candidates from the first debate, the public is. And I’m sure they will say that with a straight face.

Even debate veterans privately admit ten participants are too many. Most of the early GOP debates last time, from August to November 2011, included only eight candidates, and that was bad enough.

But ten is a nice round number, and it allows Fox and CNN to claim they have found a reasonable balance between having too many hopefuls and arbitrarily excluding some. It’s a classic cover-your-behind strategy.

But limiting the field to ten participants means as many as six hopefuls could be excluded from the meaningful debates. Sure, CNN will have a loser’s bracket, but much like the NIT basketball tournament, nobody will care. Being the best of the losers isn’t exactly a winning outcome.

The two networks could end up excluding the only woman in the Republican field (businesswoman Carly Fiorina), the only African-American in the field (Ben Carson), or the only other candidate of color in the race (Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal). For a party that needs to remake its image, excluding candidates who are not white men is a novel strategy.

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul would all appear to have guaranteed slots in the debate. That leaves room for five others. Who could be excluded?

Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum is the last Republican to have won the Iowa caucuses, but he could be excluded. The same goes for former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who won those caucuses in 2008.

South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham is about to announce his candidacy, but he doesn’t yet have a campaign. He could be on the outside looking in, even though he is a sitting senator from the second primary state. Not only that, but Graham has become one of his party’s leading voices on national security issues. Oh well, who cares about those issues anyway?

Ohio Governor John Kasich appears poised to enter the race, but also has no real campaign yet. He may not be able to ramp up quickly enough to make the top ten cut. But the first debate is in Cleveland, which, the last time I looked, is still in Ohio. And Ohio remains one of the key states in 2016. Oh, what the heck, he’s only the governor.

The rest of the field includes former Texas Governor Rick Perry, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, former New York Governor George Pataki and the aforementioned Trump.

Right now, Trump would make the cutoff, and because of his celebrity status he might very well meet the criteria later this year when the first two debate fields are set. Yet, I think we all know Trump is a carnival barker, not a credible contender for the Republican presidential nomination.

Clearly, any effort to limit the field will generate complaints and criticism. But any approach that limits the field so early in the race, at least five months before the first contest involving voters, seems inherently unfair. And using national polls to select participants in early debates seems odd when the first few actual tests of strength involve small, retail politics states like Iowa and New Hampshire.

After all, we are talking about the first debate or the first couple of debates, not the fifth. Each candidate can rightly argue he or she deserves to be in the first few debates, since those televised events will be the first time many Republican voters will have the opportunity to evaluate and compare the candidates.

The obvious answer is to divide the field in half, randomly assigning individual hopefuls to one of the two debates. Of course, not everyone will like the group he or she is in, and the makeup of each group would determine the particular dynamic of that debate.

After a couple of debates, the hosts of additional debates will have just cause to limit the number of debaters. But doing so in the first couple of debates is inherently unfair and could end up damaging the party’s image. You’d think that that would be something the RNC would want to avoid.

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Is Anyone Not Running For The Republican Presidential Nomination?

By Phil Mattingly, Bloomberg News (TNS)

Everyone, it seems, is in.

The multi-year “will they or won’t they” game that political reporters, operatives, and junkies have been playing was all for naught. Just about every Republican whose name was floated as a potential 2016 candidate — and a few who never even entered the conversation — have taken a look at the political landscape and decided to enter the race or have given clear signals that a campaign launch is imminent. While there are clear benefits to the diverse field, it is also already creating headaches for party leaders looking toward a major general election fight.

Six candidates already are officially in the hunt for the Republican nomination. Over the next ten days four more candidates may join the field. That group still won’t include expected players Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor; Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker; or New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Or Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. Or Ohio Governor John Kasich.

“The field is larger and deeper than in previous cycles,” says Nathan Gonzales, editor and publisher of the Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report, a non-partisan analysis of campaigns and elections. And that, without question “makes things more complicated.”

Republican donors and operatives have for weeks been weighing the benefits (real debate over the issues; the type of race that excites all corners of the party; an unlimited number of attacks from all sides directed at Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton) and negatives (no control of aforementioned debates; no unified message; donors spread thin; a primary process that, like the one in 2012, may suck resources, energy, and some of the sheen off the eventual candidate) of such a deep field. But the hypothetical exercise turned real last week when it was reported that Fox News would limit participation in its August debate to the top ten candidates based on the average of the five most recent national polls.

Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, who will announce his decision on the race Wednesday, criticized the “arbitrary” nature of the debate metrics in an interview with National Journal. He pointed to the 11 states he carried in the 2012 campaign as Exhibit A of why using early national polls is a poor plan.

He also noted the possibility of excluding candidates with major government or business bona fides — like Jindal, or former technology executive Carly Fiorina, or South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, who is expected to announce his entrance into the field on June first — as other examples of why the threshold was flawed.

That’s not to say there aren’t clear positives to the size of the group. The diversity, both in viewpoints and in backgrounds, the group brings to the table is something Republicans gleefully point out as a contrast to the current Democratic field of two (and dominated by one.)

“The quality of the candidates is just higher,” says Gonzales, something the party’s likely voters seem to agree with. A May 19 Pew Research Center poll found that 57 percent of Republican or Republican-leaning registered voters had a positive impression of the current field. That early enthusiasm, even with a looming hard-fought primary process, is certainly a step up from past years. The same poll found 50 percent of the same group had an excellent or good impression of the GOP field in September 2007. Last cycle was even worse: Only 44 percent had a positive impression of the field in May 2011.

Gonzales also points out a key, and too often ignored, point at this stage in the race: It’s really, really early. No, it sure wouldn’t look good to have the governor of Ohio, the premier swing state, left off the stage of the first Republican debate, which just so happens to be held in Ohio. But early debates aside, gaming out an elongated primary process with a sizable field of financially viable candidates ignores a key data point: the voters. Nothing whittles a field down quite like a couple of eighth or ninth place finishes, he says.

Photo: Teresa via Flickr

New Congress, New Round In Senate Fight Over Obama’s Judges

By David Hawkings, CQ-Roll Call (TNS)

WASHINGTON — In the long-running judicial wars between the Senate and the White House, the first skirmish of the year is flaring into the open this week.

How it plays out will offer insight about whether the new Republican majority plans to continue making the federal bench a venue for venting displeasure with President Barack Obama, or whether he’ll be allowed to refashion the courts a bit more during his final two years in office.

The locus of the new fight is L. Felipe Restrepo, chosen by the president six months ago for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. He’s the only person Obama has picked for eight current vacancies on the regional appeals courts. The seat has been open for 18 months, and as a result, the caseload recently became so backlogged that the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts declared a “judicial emergency” for appeals out of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware.

But the Senate Judiciary Committee is convening its third hearing of the year Wednesday afternoon to hear from judicial nominees, and Restrepo is not invited. His supporters say efforts to spur his progress behind the scenes have been frustrated at every turn.

“This is just slow-walking a totally qualified nominee,” said Kyle C. Barry of the Alliance for Justice, which advocates for a more liberal judiciary. “There’s no substantive reason, and it’s unconscionable.”

Progressive advocacy groups and some Senate Democrats suspect Restrepo is being held hostage by the GOP as the latest act of retribution for Obama’s executive action on immigration last fall, which sought to grant an indefinite reprieve from deportation to millions of people in the country illegally.

The initial Republican approach — withholding funding from the Department of Homeland Security unless the president reversed course — ended up as a high-profile collapse this winter, and the Senate GOP’s fallback effort to deny Loretta Lynch’s confirmation as attorney general after she said she would support Obama’s policy has come to naught this spring. Now, some on the right are suggesting the best possible Plan C is preventing new judges on the appeals courts.

“There is little risk of the public outrage that might accompany a DHS shutdown or even a fight over a Cabinet nominee,” Curt Levey of the conservative Committee for Justice legal think tank wrote in the Wall Street Journal in March.

“Nonetheless, denying Mr. Obama the power to shape these all-important circuit courts would give Republicans nearly as much leverage as a broader approach,” he continued. “If Republican senators stick together, this is a no-lose strategy. Either the president relents by rescinding or substantially modifying his immigration orders, or Republicans halt his leftward transformation of the circuit courts and keep judicial vacancies open for a possible GOP president in 2017.”

The staff for Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley said the Iowa Republican is not embracing this approach. Instead, they say the committee is still reviewing the latest background check — something of a curiosity, given that only two years ago the FBI conducted a thorough review of the 56-year-old Restrepo’s life before he was confirmed (on a voice vote) for his current job as a federal trial court judge in Philadelphia.

“You can see by the numbers that there is no strategy,” spokeswoman Beth Levine said, offering statistics suggesting the GOP timetable on judges at this point in Obama’s presidency is comparable to the Democrats’ pace during President George W. Bush’s seventh year in office.

Adding to the mystery behind the Restrepo delay is the fact that one of the judge’s most important public supporters, Republican Patrick J. Toomey, has not returned the endorsement form (known as a “blue slip”) that the committee requires from each home-state senator before a judicial confirmation process begins. He and Pennsylvania’s other senator, Democrat Bob Casey, jointly recommended Restrepo for the lower court, and last fall Toomey declared “he will also make a superb addition to the Third Circuit.”

Toomey’s office declined to discuss the missing blue slip, but spokeswoman E.R. Anderson said Toomey still supports confirmation “and hopes it gets done this year.”

The senator is at a politically difficult moment in his career. A favorite of free-market and social conservatives, he will stand for a second term in a presidential year in a state that’s voted Democratic for president in six straight elections. So far, at least, Toomey has done little to shift his agenda or his voting record toward the middle ahead of 2016.

Professing his support in public for a prominent home-state figure — while withholding his formal endorsement behind the scenes for a time as a gesture of solidarity with fellow conservatives — would count as only the slightest feint to the middle.

A native of Colombia who came to the United States as a toddler and became a citizen in 1993, Restrepo would be the second Latino ever on the Third Circuit. But he would be the first judge on that court who’s been a public defender, having done that work in state and federal court for six years after law school.

He then spent 13 years in private practice, focused on civil rights and criminal defense, before becoming a federal magistrate in 2006, where he ran a program that assisted federal convicts newly released from prison to finish high school, clear up bad credit and find employment.

Restrepo might still end up as a symbol of the immigrant success story and a reminder that the poor oftentimes benefit from good court-appointed lawyers. Or he could become the latest high-profile victim of partisan brinkmanship in the shaping of the judicial branch. This early in the year, it’s still too early to predict.

Photo: Jeffrey Beall via Flickr